4, December 2012 § Leave a comment
20, November 2012 § 1 Comment
Sunday’s large format class. In Lisa Nam’s photo above, Emily Eberhart is adjusting to f 22 on our sweet and plumbed 1958 Deardorff with Piera Bochner assisting; soon to be loaded with Ilford FP4 for a carefully pre-visualized and crafted Zone Exposure.
The students very quickly grasp the concept that working with a view camera is indeed slow photography and very much a practice of meditation compared to the click-whirr hand-held reality, especially when using a tripod mounted 8 x 10.
The Aegean Center continues to value and teach the gelatin silver process. Of course part of an in-depth understanding of silver based film photography is knowledge of its history, process, tools and equipment. I believe the experience with Slow Photography is enormously important and crucial to teaching the craft, more so now than ever in this digital age of 32+ gig memory cards and hyper-active digital capture.
I am not intending this to be a negative assessment of digital photography, (those of you who are familiar with the Aegean Center know we have an excellent digital course and state-of the-art digital lab) . I do, however, want to make the point that experience with Slow Photography is important to the true understanding of the aesthetics of photography in general.
15, October 2012 § Leave a comment
At the core of the Aegean Center, lies the philosophy of the Sanctum, the Center’s special space for students in the hill village of Lefkes. If the Center is an oasis for the Classical arts in a wasteland of post-modernism, then the Sanctum is an island refuge from the din of the over-connected, banal networks found in the supposed modern world. In my own experience I have found the Sanctum to be a place of healing, a fountain of renewal after I had been drained dry by societies pressures and the indecision of identity and character.
In 2010 I was still connected to old rhythms, still dancing a tired, limping waltz leftover from an exhausting home-care commitment in which I had willingly labored since 2004 and human aid work in Bosnia in 2007 and 2008. That fresh spring day I had not intended to come to sit in the clear light of that quiet room. I had wandered around Lefkes hoping to take some interesting photos in the streets and the surrounding area, but found myself, quite by accident, at the Sanctum’s door. The students had visited the place a few weeks before with John Pack. He had told us something about himself that day and opened up his heart in both joy and sadness. I inserted my shiny, new key, turned the lock and walked in. I put down my day-pack. It suddenly felt too heavy to bear. The muted April light shining through the windows illuminated the soft pillows, colorful rugs and a small wooden writing desk on the floor. There were only earth tones, nothing jarring to the senses. There was a painting on the wall, some wooden tables, a few simple caned chairs. The air was cool, scented with oregano growing in small pots. In comparison I felt heavy, ungainly, somewhat unbalanced. My mind was buzzing with a dull grey drone and I found myself asking questions as old as Paros: “Why am I here? Who am I? What is my reason? Where am I going? What will I find when I get there?” I sat down roughly into the pillows, grateful for their softness, kicked off my shoes and fell into oblivion.
I awoke an hour later feeling more calm, but still pensive. I had dreamed. I understood that it was acceptable to feel uncertain, to ask these questions of myself. I didn’t need the answers today. Perhaps they would never be satisfied. To keep searching would be better than ending the quest with a quick, efficient, modern answer. I had discovered this vital truth, a truth I knew in my heart, in a little room in Greece, surrounded by silence and light. I returned to Paroikia that afternoon, transformed.
So what is the philosophy of the Sanctum? To be honest I am not entirely sure, but I know that there is one important rule: No electronic interference or devices: no mobile phones, no internet, no recorded music, no games. Nothing that would distract the mind from the important experience of ‘being’, as opposed to ‘doing’. We come to the Sanctum to learn who we are, just as we come to the Aegean Center to experience something we do not have in America, or wherever we are from. With any luck we leave that behind when we step off the boat from Athens. We search for something more meaningful in a world measured by ‘things’ and a vertical technology. We disengage from the cacophony of an incorrectly defined progressive era, step over the marble threshold and into a clear and quiet room. We put down what we carry.
– John D.C. Masters, Paros, 15 October, 2012
5, December 2011 § 1 Comment
Paros is a small island, and at times it feels it. As an artist especially, we walk around living in our work and our minds. It gets real easy to spend an entire week in the town, making art, interacting with other students and the locals, until all of a sudden Paros feels like this tiny little rock comprised wholly of the little city Parikia. The Friday hikes are the weekly escape. A mental break for sure, they are an opportunity to recreate with all of the other students, to talk with them, as well as spend some quality time with John Pack. More than that, the Pack hikes are a chance to see the island outside of the town, and experience all of her rugged, prickly, life-giving beauty. When I say prickly, I mean, wear pants, you never know when the Byzantine era donkey path will be overgrown with typically Parian spiked shrubbery. When I say life giving I mean a couple things. First, bring a backpack, people lived off of this land for 10,000+ years, we find any herb a salad could want, lemons, olives that are good to eat off the tree, carob, almonds, half of Whole Foods grows here. I also mean life giving in the sense that, for some reason, nobody comes back from a hike and plops down for a 6 hour nap. It’s energizing, the land has a vitality to it.
On one hike, which was particularly full of ruins, fruit, and history, John and Jane took us to the Healing Tree, which for me, represents everything that the Friday Hikes are. This tree is ancient, with huge branches that sag to the ground and others that stretch up 20 meters. It’s a perfect tree to climb, lounge under, sit on, I could entertain myself there for hours. It got its name from a particular student in the past. She was depressed, and knew it before coming. When she got to Paros she decided she couldn’t handle being here, that she needed to go home. John convinced her to wait out the week, which included a hike to this particular tree. She saw the branches, climbed right up, stayed there for hours, and announced that she would stay. Spending time in the tree was a healing exercise for her, and she swore by it. This is what the hikes can do. They can heal you. Not to sound all New Age medicine or anything, but being in nature every Friday, led by John, is good for the soul. The time out there will inspire you and affect your work. They are an ultimate good, and I swear by them.
1, December 2011 § 2 Comments
To my great irritation, John Pack refused to pick us up from the Rome airport on September third. He wrote that it is a necessary experience to navigate the Italian transportation system and find the Villa Rospigliosi by oneself, which as he said, your arrival surprises no one but yourself. I landed in Rome that morning and was by myself overseas for the first time in my life. I followed John’s instructions and found myself on a train to the Roma termini where I would catch the longer train to Florence. I stood by my suitcase, paranoid and lonely, and looked out the window. Graffiti cluttered sooty apartment buildings and laundry hung from decrepit balconies. If it is possible for corn fields to look dirty, they did. I thought: Rome is filthy. As the train ride took too long I felt alternating emptiness and exhilaration and was reminded of a Tazo tea bag quote: “Empty yourself and let the universe fill you.” So I watched people emerge from underground railway steps as if from graves, and wrote that in my journal. In truth it was only I, every changing instant, every train stop, that felt truly reborn. I would come to learn that this rebirth is not quite as easy or as instant as famed. It is the slow de-tassling of corn along the train tracks, the hesitant pull and some resistance as the shuck releases. And once bare: naked, too bright and alone. Of course I wasn’t alone. I arrived at the Villa Rospigliosi, to my surprise, and was greeted by people (the cream of the crop!) that I would come to love. Furthermore, within and despite our togetherness, I would unearth my Self: flesh-colored and content.
Ironically, becoming comfortable as an independent individual was a byproduct of emptying myself. When I abandoned judgment– which filled my previous universe– and my old relationships, and my strongly rooted sense of American identity, I was left, at first, with only myself. And without those things what was I? In the beginning– it started on the train– I was lost, and at risk of fragmentation, as psychoanalysts say, as a result of the departure from my more comfortable universe and its contents. But feeling for the first time the anxiety of an impending state of fragmentation gave me underground wholeness. Emptying myself made room for a “Vita Nuova”; instead of wallowing in aloneness and chaos, I was inspired to embrace a new world and a new calling: to love instead of judge, to marvel instead of stress, to create (art!) instead of deconstruct. Returning to Rome after three weeks in Pistoia I felt as if I were seeing it for the first time. It was raw and ruinous. I noticed the rotting apartment buildings and the (colorful) tourists but wanted it just as it was. I marveled at the oscillating and polluted process of civilization, of art– its demise and miraculous resurfacing. After all, what would the Renaissance have been if not for the Dark Ages.
In short, the process of becoming empty and re-filling solidified my sense of self. Because, of course, by coming to Italy and Greece I did not leave or lose myself at all, but rather re-discovered it in the context of something different. Only then was I sure I had it at all. Being on the precipice of utter aloneness, I found that I am not solely a malleable product of my American culture, but an independent self with a free will and heart to internalize my ever-changing environment, no matter its unfamiliarity. With time, my self was gradually recognized and rebuilt within the unfamiliar constructs of the Aegean Center. And my new-found wholeness was nurtured, even sustained, by the loving relationships I developed, our creative pursuits and our unending quest to relish each other, our art, good food, and the beauty around us. Call it a personal renaissance, or an odyssey, or an extended meditation; whatever it was it gave me presence. It made me art.
As the threat of fragmentation again arises with only two weeks left in the semester, and the physical loss of these wonderful people and Greece is imminent at least for a time, I remind myself of what I have discovered: the competent Self seeks healthy, loving relationships for emotional nourishment but not completion or validation; she lives presently and thoughtfully and forgets familiarity; she embraces solitude; she allows perpetual emptying to fulfill and re-fill her. “Courage is the ability to open oneself to experience the unfamiliar”– I also read that on a tea bag. While this time I will be returning to the familiar, having courage – to find the unfamiliar in this known territory, to marvel at what I see and feel every day and to let that inflame my interests and my relationships – will keep me whole. Thanks for the train ride, John and friends (and Tazo tea).
Caroline Beaton is a painting student at the Aegean Center.
28, November 2011 § Leave a comment
The week before the break I woke up in a rather unusual fashion. From my bed one can see my bathroom door. The previous day I had haphazardly thrown my towel over it. As I lay there unwilling to venture beyond my blanket I began to notice how pretty the towel was. The light shone through the bathroom window onto its peaks and valleys, and I began to pick out contour lines, shadows. I leaned over and picked up my iphone to grab a picture. I was still unwilling to leave the safe spot that was my bed, and now when I look at the picture I wish I had been more diligent in this regard. None the less, I snapped it. As the morning progressed I began to laugh at myself and the clichéd nature of my situation. I really have begun to see my surroundings in a different way.
I think of myself as lucky in a number of ways. Prior to coming to the Aegean Center I had drawn periodically as a child, but as I ventured into my 20’s this had become somewhat sporadic, and in the few months prior to catching my flight to Italy it had become essentially non existent. As I moved into my career and my mid-twenties I began to pick up a camera in hopes of capturing the moments I did allow myself to see. I had coined the phrase with a friend of my mine from back home of wanting to capture the ‘click -click’ moments of life. Thus I had the urge to capture something more, but no longer confident in my ability to do so. I landed in Italy as a blank slate in a number of different ways.
In Pistoia I began drawing again, tentatively and with much frustration. We began with some basic drawing, which included learning about perspective. I recall sitting one afternoon in the villa drawing a line of boxes, and how at that moment it was so difficult. I had forgotten or grown lax in my approach, or had altogether no technique. I began filling in the blanks. The program was reminding me what I had previously learned and was also giving me a new approach in which to conquer my nerves. For example, one of my earliest memories of having a drawing lesson as a child was when I was seven. I was sitting at the kitchen table drawing a horse that appeared on one of my baby sister’s plush toys. Just as I do now, I was vocally sighing with my inability to gain the likeness. My mother approached me and said “Why don’t you draw everything but the horse?” While I now know she was talking about negative space, that had really been the last time anyone had given me direction in that regard. Up until now I didn’t even realize that this was how I approached a lot my drawing. In a number of ways I did know some things, but I still needed to fill in the gaps.
Figure drawing has given us the approach on how to look at a figure; weight, constellations, boxes, contour lines. As I have progressed in the class I have begun to see what I saw previously in my drawing but without direction. For example, previously, when I had wanted to make something look less flat, I would draw in circles to give it body and shape. Figure drawing calls these contour lines. I have thus tried to amalgamate the two approaches ; trying not to draw the full circle, but still giving the body shape in this regard through my half circles. I kick myself a little because at certain points in the program I had stopped drawing, painting, or taking photos because of my own confidence and nerves. At points I was acknowledging what I did know, and thus had stopped. I remember when we were first introduced to contour lines at the villa and in my head I thought, ‘I think I do that’. The structure of painting and drawing has helped build that confidence again. It’s slowly filling in gaps, but also creating new ones while allowing me the ease to get going.
Digital photography, on the other hand, has allowed me to see things in a whole new light (pun intended). A couple of weeks ago, we moved from using the Bridge program to exclusively using Photoshop. For some reason I found this overwhelming. John poised the question in class asking “Who here feels overwhelmed yet?” I quickly lifted my hand only to have him say “You’re just nervous.” He was exactly right. On several occasions he reminded not only the class but me specifically that there was no test at the end of the program. Often John would say “Just play”. This drove me nuts at the beginning. I had worked in education previously and the Aegean’s approach to learning was what had attracted me to the center, but theory and practice don’t always jive at the beginning . Digital has taught me to keep going in other ways. It has encouraged me to take the photo, look at what I have taken and then try again. It’s teaching me to ask questions. It’s teaching me to see the world on my own, through my own eye, to learn from John’s trained eye, but to also portray the world as I may see it. It’s teaching me to again ask questions. Now, on the other side of the semester, I see the ‘structure’ of learning to learn.
Together, drawing, painting, and photography have helped me see bits and pieces of my ‘click-click’ moments in a different fashion. Because of painting and drawing, I see things such as saturation and tonal gradation which allow me to see my photography differently. Composing my photos, and the way I look at light, has had its effect on my drawing and painting as well. This past week I was sitting in a cafe and decided to do a quick sketch of my glass and table. In five minutes I rendered something that I found not too shabby. I then flipped back to one of the pictures I had painstakingly tried to compose at the villa in Pistoia. It had taken me three hours to draw a cup. Now I draw the contents of my table in less than five minutes. Not without mistakes, but definitely with less trepidation. Now that I play with it, I have questions, and I play more each day. Now, I wake up in the morning and look at a towel and notice how beautiful it is and reach for my camera.
14, November 2011 § 1 Comment
My junior year of high school, I realized that I needed to change. It began with the unnerving sense that I was following a trajectory of always looking forward to what comes next (next week, next assignment, next form of schooling) without being able to revel in my present moment. I was a student who would stay up working until 12:30 at night and then wake up at 5:00 the next morning to do more work for days on end. I loved school. I was hungry for the knowledge but the pressure I felt to succeed, to achieve, to excel beyond expectations was forcing me into a corner and my body couldn’t handle what I demanded of it. I was exhausted, getting sick all the time, and worst of all, time was whizzing by. At the rate I was going, I felt like I was racing for something, but I couldn’t say what it was.
I knew I had to take a gap year before college because I wanted so desperately to stop everything and look at life from a new angle. I wanted the time and space to immerse myself in my passions in totality and to strive to perfect them. To be surrounded by creativity that would inspire me to bring out my own. It feels somewhat surreal how perfect the Aegean Center is turning out to be for those needs.
Stepping into my new world, I found that the changes occurred naturally. I started writing in a word document on my computer called “My happiness project” multiple times a day and jotted down random thoughts, quotes, and sketches in journals. I vowed to stay off of Facebook and my quality of life swelled immediately. I gave some long and hard thought to the concept of generosity, and finally figured it out in full what I assumed I had known all my life; share everything and the world will be even more beautiful! I started listening to podcasts about energy healing and stopped wearing shoes most of the time. I’m not exaggerating… I found peace.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about all of this is how much work I am actually doing. Hours are spent in my painting studio, the music room practicing arias, vocal exercises and breath technique, in my apartment writing short stories or sitting somewhere outside, drawing for Jun’s Basic Drawing Class assignments. The difference is that it doesn’t feel like work. In fact, I dropped the phrase “getting work done” in my mind altogether, because now I know it’s not about being finished with something. Rather, it is about the moments that go into creation. When I stopped seeing the final result as being the objective, I learned to feel where I was, what I was doing, to feel my process, feel the present moment.
I stopped eating as fast as I could. Stopped editing my creative writing with the intention of pleasing any eyes but my own. Stopped scribbling down schedules for myself planned down to the minute. I slowed down. I started doing stretches and laughter yoga every day. Miraculously, I somehow had more than enough room in the day for what I wanted to do. Without Facebook or TV shows or texting, I found that I was incapable of wasting time. Whether my moments went into drawing in my sketchbook, cooking for my friends, sleeping, having a conversation with someone face to face, or standing silently and feeling myself breathe, I was living in a way that was healing and refreshing. I finally felt that I owned my actions and that I was doing everything for myself.
Early on, there was that inkling of dread in the back of my mind that said this was all too good to be true. Maybe I could live my months in bliss here, but ultimately I would go back home and feel once again swallowed by deadlines, checklists, and the saying my mother learned from her days of pastry chef school playing in my head to “move with a sense of urgency.” But as the days have unfurled and I keep getting happier and happier, less and less stressed, that sense of panic I felt looses its hold. To the questions that I have been asking myself from the moment I stepped into the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia: “Why can’t real life be like this? Why can’t creativity govern me all the time?” I suddenly dare to answer “It can.”
24, October 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s hard to believe that three weeks have already come and gone here on Paros. Italy seems a distant memory as classes begin to unfold and the students settle into their work. Despite busy schedules, enthusiasm remains high both in and out of the classroom.
Each of us is here for a different reason, trying to figure out our own path in life. Though we are ultimately here for ourselves, a sense of family has formed among the students and, with that, an understanding and growing respect for one another.
For me, this term hasn’t gone at all what I had expected. I have been forced to look at myself in a new light, one that doesn’t allow me to shy away from the uncomfortable realities of my shortcomings and gifts. The importance of learning about the self is emphasized just as strongly as expanding academic knowledge and artistic skill, as well as the appreciation and understanding of nature and our surroundings. At times the island is just as much a teacher as the rest of the faculty, and its wisdom is revealed in different ways each week, particularly on the hikes. Being immersed in nature with no distractions other than Earth itself feeds the soul in a way nothing else can.
To continue John’s ongoing countdown, one more week of classes lies ahead before we enter break and the term quietly passes the halfway point. But for now all we can do is live in the moment – take in the light, embrace the weather, and continue working diligently.
19, October 2011 § 1 Comment
The group of fall students have been in Paros for nearly two weeks now. Last Friday we hiked to the far valley beyond Lefkes and then returned to eat at Flora’s on the hillside overlooking Naxos on the horizon. The last few days we had torrential rains that flooded the streets and thunder crackled overhead. Classes are all underway and some readjustments are being made in schedules, what to pursue, what to drop. Everyone seems busy and determined to excel.
Italy was hot but we kept up a steady pace seeing museums and churches. Gelato was sampled and discussed and coffee took on an elevated status. The meals at the villa were always noisy and satisfying, the garden beautiful but the mosquitos fierce. We drew large perspective studies in the old chapel, photographed the fountain, sang acapella, and listened to Monteverdi.
Paros is welcoming and small in comparison to the grandeur of Rome and Athens but easy to negotiate and familiar. We have settled in, becoming a bit more independent of the group. The Greek economy may be in ruins but island life seems little changed. The beauty of the sea and the sky give us longer vistas to contemplate.
11, August 2011 § 7 Comments
As Paros is an island, you’ve got to take a boat. I didn’t immediately realize the significance of this until I was on board the ferry and motoring away from the hazy landmass of Athens. Out in the middle of the Aegean– long, long before the sea appeared to me as brushstroke washes of ultramarine blue and viridian green– I felt as though I was not only traveling but emigrating.
Surely I knew what I had signed up for: I wasn’t leaving an impoverished, famine stricken land carrying all my portable property for a chance at a better life on Paros. I was vacationing from New York City to learn how to paint. Yet, there was a palpably different feeling to this trip.
Our incredible professor (and my friend of some years from Minnesota), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, collected us individually from the ferry port as we arrived. We were taken to our quarters, a small set of apartments only 200 paces from the sea. I was shown the cafe in town were we would receive our free student meals. I was shown where to shop for our own groceries. I was shown where to walk to reach the classroom. I was even taught the particularities of the Greek toilet. These basic instructions heightened my sense of emigration. I wouldn’t only be taught how to paint, I would be shown how to live.
During our first classroom session we had received an outline detailing our expected arrival time for each day, the topic to be covered during the day’s class, and the start time and subject of the evening lecture. Still, many details were omitted– would we paint indoors or on excursion? If we are going out, where are we going? What will we be painting? Can we choose what to paint? The intentional vagary bothered some of our fellow students. Answers to these questions were occasionally demanded. I was exhilarated.
Each day unfolded magnificently. Early in the morning we had time to do as we pleased. I would wake early to take a dip in the sea, sketch or paint, and take a walk to town for a fresh baked spanikopita or Greek yogurt with honey. Classroom time was dynamic. Jun-Pierre would instruct on a topic of focus and provide a variety of hands-on exercises. For example, on the class period focusing on color Jun had us create a variety of color wheels using a particular color family and using a variety of wet and dry brush techniques. After creating these wheels he had us wash over them with various colors to understand their effects. We would break from one in the afternoon until four-thirty. We could do whatever we wanted during the break. Many of us chose to eat lunch at our designated cafe, Cafe Distrato. Some of us would then swim, shop, or nap. Often for the resumption of class we would take an excursion to someplace on the island such as a superlatively beautiful hillside, monastery, or windmill overlooking sea and rock where we would practice applying the day’s classroom instruction. In the evening there was often an optional lecture offered by a professor at the Aegean Center. Night would mean dinner on our own, perhaps a final night swim under moonlight and then sleep. Sleep! The kind of sleep that comes quickly to those who are satisfied, exhausted, and content to be lulled by soft breezes and the sound of the sea.
After our second week of studying, exploring, and tasting something wonderful happened. We were more relaxed, our personalities had settled in to one another. I gathered the distinct sense that it became less about what we expected from the class and more about being able to absorb everything we were being offered. Our work reflected this. Our conversations and deportment reflected this. We had a rhythm and a little livelihood on Paros, no matter how transitory. Rather sadly, following our student show it was time to leave.
We came by boat and we left by boat. New York and the old life were calling. It was time to strip myself of my Greek sandals and my responsibly cultivated tan to once again return to pushing my plow through fields of ones and zeros. And after so much! I had eaten incredible locally grown food. I had mastered zigzagging from shadow to shadow in order to avoid the summer sun. I had learned how to draw, to paint, to see. Now, it was time to return. I may not always have fresh urchin roe, but I’m forever changed. I know because I did not merely visit, I had emigrated– even if it was only temporary.
The ferry approaches on the horizon. Hot people queue haphazardly in bunches, luggage awkwardly in tow. Up until the last moments there are kind words, embraces, and well wishing. It is unlike air travel: the airline security acting as a hermetic seal between your destination and airport-land and all airport-lands connected by flying tubes of recycled air. With air travel you enter on one side of the tube and come out uncomfortably on the other. This produces an illusion that destinations belong to differing neighborhoods within a grand scale world-metropolis. Objects seem closer than they appear. Traveling by boat is different. Up on the deck of the boat you can see the land and your loved ones standing there, all getting smaller and receding slowly into the distance. They recede just as slowly as the thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could stay forever?