Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Art In My Life: How It Came About

These past few days I have let myself get a little excited about an upcoming exhibit of my photography in a small coffeehouse here in town. In my mind I have built it up to be a grand event, perhaps even an introduction to the creative universe around me. Other people have noticed this about me, some are even growing nearly as eager to see the exhibit as I am to place my work in the public eye.

This build-up is not all in my mind, not hardly. As a result of my initial efforts, hundreds of people have been contacted about this, in-person, through mass mailings, and even by at least one publicist. This does not mean that many people will absolutely get excited enough about the show to come and see my work, but no doubt some of them will. It is inevitable that at least a handful of them will get curious, like humans often do, and make an effort to come glance at some of the pictures I have taken all over the world.

St Michaels Waterfront 16566 Amsterdam Canal 00025

It all started in my mind many years ago, long before this month-long exhibit of my art photography became reality. For years, no, decades, I told myself that my work would be special. My best pictures are different from most ordinary snapshots taken at this moment or the next. I have shown my pictures to people I meet, again and again all over the world. I carefully noted what they said and thought about out loud while they looked at my work.

At first some people just flipped through my photos like they would anybody else's vacation snapshots. Members of my family have sometimes grown a little tired of all the pictures I take, I learned that long ago.

So I refined my approach. I selected a few images that I thought were more special than the rest. I showed those few images to other people, strangers, and casual acquaintances. I put them in very public places on the Internet, or left them on tables at all the places where I do my other work. I attached them to e-mails that I sent to friends and consulting clients. I still also showed them to my family, but not as frequently.

After years and years of doing this I began to further refine the way in which I shared my photography. I put together collections of similar images. I mixed scenes and people and places, along with brilliant colors or even somber rainy day views. I enlarged some pictures that were rich in information, details, or colors. The results were educational, for me.

Sunset along Spa Creek 51945

You need to understand that I do not just look at my photography, or share it with others, in order to become a better artist. No, I carefully study the work of artists that many, many people have celebrated in the past. I go to museums in all the different cities I have been fortunate to visit. I stand there and carefully examine the works of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Renoir, Monet, Manet, and hundreds of other artists. I want people to appreciate art in general. I want to use my work to teach other people what makes fine art so special.

Manet's Déjeuner Sur l'Herbe 49973

So many creative people call all their work "art" and more than a few people accept that label without question. However, not all oil placed on canvas really is art. Every piece of stone or wood hacked into a recognizable shape is not necessarily an artistic sculpture. Few photographs can really be said to be "fine art photographs." Creative efforts only become art when they inspire people or when they draw diverse crowds through word of mouth or when people find having these works around changes their lives in some way. Even then they may not be "art" but they are certainly headed in that general direction.

I do not claim to know all the ways to determine if something is really artistic but I know that just because a wealthy or educated person says something is art does not make it so. Real art appears to come from the deep reactions it causes in the human spirit.

The Jolly Flatboatmen 19774

As I carefully consider my upcoming exhibit I find the roots of my expression in the coffee table books of Norman Rockwell or George Caleb Bingham paintings that my parents always left sitting out. I think about the times I paused at the artwork while reading the set of Compton's encyclopedias my mother won on the game show Jeopardy!.

As I grew older I went to libraries to read but also to look at paintings and sculptures for hours. This practice I kept to myself since not all art is deemed appropriate for young boys to ponder. My mother and my Uncle Richard took me along to museums starting at an early age. I clearly remember many different trips with them.

National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian 19987

The first thing I did when I went to India was visit various state museums and look at the classical art on display there. I later did the same in Holland, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, Korea, and especially London and New York. In my hometown of Philadelphia there is a wonderful art museum and also a collection of Rodin sculptures.

In college I took a few art classes, not those that teach you to paint or draw but the classes that teach European art or the art of India, China, and Japan. Learning to appreciate Utamaro, Hokusai, Chou Ch'en, and so many other Asian masters was an important part of my education. I could not afford to be an art major in college, everyone knows that few artists will ever earn a living from their passion. My college degree is in communication, specifically speech communication in business settings.

Along the way I have not neglected to learn from the great photographers of the past. The works of Margaret Bourke-White, William Henry Jackson, Atget, Stieglitz, Steichen, Adams, Burrows, Leibowitz and many others are common knowledge to me. I have gone to Paris, New York, and great National Parks out West to understand and even photograph in the footsteps of these people. Photography is my medium and these people have taught me to study light, shadows, smiles, and frowns to find a balance worth communicating to other people.

Near our current family home there is the Chrysler Museum of Norfolk, Virginia. It contains a fascinating collection of paintings and photography. Close to where I live now is the Corcoran, the National Gallery of Art, and all the other Smithsonian collections like the Sackler and Freer galleries among many others. I know the collections of art, sculpture, and photography in those institutions well.

Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC 00030

After hours of glancing at the images in all these places I have spent a considerable fraction of my meager earnings on books filled with the same work. I really enjoy those postcards and prints you can buy with all the famous works of French Impressionist, Indian classical, Dutch Masters, and American artists. My Oxford Companion to the Photograph and other photo books are well-read volumes, even falling apart in some cases. Those postcards, prints, and books are the most common things I pull off my shelves during long winter nights when I cannot sleep or on lazy summer Sunday afternoons, like today.

Along the paths of my life I have even found art in the movies of Federico Fellini, Satyajit Ray, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and Woody Allen, among others. It would be wrong not to include them among the powerful influences on my artistic development, especially Fellini.

So today and next week and in this last few days that I prepare for my small exhibit in the little coffeehouse on the main road running through the city where I live, I am taking the time to wonder what led me to this point in my life. It is not a coincidence, it certainly was not other people pushing me and prodding me to exhibit my work. It absolutely was not a desire to make money that led me to study art all these years.

It was a deep desire to share the joy that I learned to derive from all those other artists. All those other people that passed years of their lives daubing paint on canvas, composing images, and generally trying to determine what might make other people a little happier for a few moments of their lives. Or perhaps longer.

When I showed someone a very special image I created and they sighed for the first time. When I heard a very authentic "Wow, that is beautiful, where did you take this?" I knew I was on to something. I knew I wanted to make people happy with my work. I knew I wanted to do more with my photography than simply fill an album with memories or compose a family portrait or capture a corporation's business processes.

You see, there is nothing more fulfilling in life than making the people around you a little happier, a little more comfortable, or bringing joy to an otherwise ordinary day. To do that consistently with your own art is a treasure that one can only find at the end of a rainbow that usually takes years of study to create. That is the goal of this artist. Perhaps I am getting closer to making that goal the work I do for the rest of my life. No matter what happens as a result of my first exhibit, I will still devote more hours to understanding and appreciating the works of other artists, old and new The masters guided me to this point in my life and I expect they knew they would be doing exactly that when they created their best works that endure all these centuries later.

Thomas H. Williams, Photographer

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Buy One, Get the Competition for Free

My Purchases

I actually needed to go to a grocery store, an office supply store and a drug store today. But my lady friend and my clients left me with no time to drive out to where all those stores are located. My gas tank was also less than a quarter full and I know Exxon is ready to hit me with four bucks a gallon any day now. Yes, I know the sign says $3.63 per gallon but that's just a trick. The moment I pull into the station the attendant will hit the digital sign switch and make it $3.99.9 or something close to that.

Anyway, I went to a neighborhood store instead. Dontcha know they actually stocked computer mailing labels, for my business printer model no less? I paid a little more, but not much, for the labels, and then I decided to check their grocery prices. They had my favourite soup on sale, two for one. But get this, I had to buy one of the Campbell's brand soups to get one of the store brand soups free. How absurd! Does Campbells really want me to check out the cheaper store brand?

The woman at the register was actually trained to explain this very unusual promotion to me. "You have to buy one of the other brand to the store brand for free." I acted like she was talking in Swahili to me. "Um, I have two of them," I responded. "But you have to buy the Campbell's to get the store brand for free." "Huh?"

She even made me tear the coupons out of the flyer which she gave me. Usually they just scan the same sales flyer behind the counter over and over again. I like that because I like to think it results in fewer trees being cut down.

So I went back to the shelves and found a Campbell's brand can and actually ended up with two of the store brand in my sack*. I probably paid too much for the second store brand but I was so inspired by the weird promotion that I realized it would result in an article for which I would be paid. So now my trip to the neighborhood store becomes a business expense. The mailing labels would have been a business expense but the soup becomes a research expense for my job as a journalist. Amazing, to say the least plus I bought some packing tape to go with the labels and some chips because they were also two for one, but for the same brand. I also bought some hair stuff just because I needed that anyway and the store ended up getting $30 out of my pockets. Well, some money from my pockets and eventually some from the account where my business expense checks come from.

I would have spent at least $45, maybe far more, if I went to a grocery store, an office supply store, and a different drug store. All that would not have included the donation to Exxon's very gross record profits. I still have less than a quarter of a tank of gas since the store I went to was in my neighborhood. I also had enough time remaining to write, take the picture, upload the picture, and post this article all on this same evening. An article for which I get paid, don't forget. In addition, my accountant says the soup, mailing labels, and packing tape are a legitimate business expense. Wow, will wonders never cease?

My Purchases

*Of course, I am still left wondering if some clever marketing person figured out that I would end up with two store brand soups in my sack. Then again, now that I put the whole promotion on the Internet the marketing firm will probably find it and punch their collective fists in the air in a celebration of sales victory. No worries, really, just more mystery about the total purchase.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Russias After Oil While George Goes On Another Vacation

Up until a few years ago key U.S. military personnel were studying Arabic and Pashtu in order to communicate or perhaps torture their foes. Now maybe they should be brushing up on their Russian.

Humvee 20026

Russia's peacekeeping contingent in the United Nations have removed their blue helmets and joined the rest of Vladimir Putin's storm-troopers invading the Caucuses. Oil is once again the prime motivator for this invasion. Specifically, the oil coming from Azerbaijan seems to be in Vlad's sights. Russia's former KGB spy wants to keep the BP pipeline in Georgia closed. That leaves only the pipeline from Azerbaijan through Russia flowing. That in turn props up the falling price of oil worldwide, or at least keeps it from falling too quickly. Russia's annual oil output is slowing declining and they have grown comfortable with the flow of U.S. dollars in the direction of Moscow.

Maybe Mr. Putin thinks it is his turn to pull the kind of stunt Mr. Bush pulled in Iraq back in '03. Bush seems to care less that the international crisis in Georgia apparently has resulted in Russia re-annexing a former Soviet satellite nation. Bush remains adamantly on vacation in Texas, after his Olympic holiday in Communist China. He needs the rest after his beach volleyball match in Beijing. The overgrown weeds on the Crawford ranch appear to take priority over one of his favorite new democracies.

Georgia, under President Saakashvili in Tbilisi is getting only a few pats on the back and bottled water from leaders of Western nations. Germany's Merkel showed up for a few hours, without any troops of course. Europeans still do not like German forces to be the first to step into any conflict, though they do serve, well behind the lines, in Afghanistan.

Beijing 2008

The U.S. and U.K. really cannot do much, their armies are tied up in debacles in Kandahar and Iraq. Though there are few hundred trainers in Georgia. China's forces really don't go far and besides they are busy looking for Olympic pole vaulters that might suddenly show a "Free Tibet" sign. Blackwater mercenaries are probably all set to fly to Tbilisi, if there is not already a subsidiary of that private army there.

In short, the free world is telling Georgia, we feel your pain but the only thing we are will to do is shout at Moscow, and trim the weeds in Texas.

St Michaels 16601

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Russia Shuts Down Caspian Oil Production

Russia has purposely shut down all oil exports from Azerbaijan. The operation was very strategically planned, probably months ahead of time. Russia's military operation was carried out while U.S. and EU governments were in recess, as well as during the Olympic Games.

Beijing 2008

Exactly two days before Russian tanks started rolling south into Georgia, a Turkish section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was bombed. Kurdish militants claimed responsibility however the operation was well out of PKK operating areas. In any event, if they were involved, the PKK could not have timed an operation more conveniently for Russia. Just 48 hours later Russia sent warships south from ports in the Ukraine to close all Georgian oil export terminals.

Russia even bombed a Georgian oil terminal to reinforce the message. Now the older Baku-Supsa pipeline is out of action again too. That pipeline only came back into use after major repairs in June of this year.

One of the loudest voices in opposition to original construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was Russia.

How convenient that Russia had so many tanks already staged near the Georgia border. At the same time Georgia had 3,000 troops out of town, putting in extra hours helping out the U.S. forces in Iraq. The U.S. put those Georgian troops on planes headed back to Tibilisi just hours after Russian forces started rolling into South Ossetia.

How interesting that U.S. advisors have been in Georgia, training their troops for many years now.

Even more fascinating is how Russia had offered the largest contingent to the United Nations peacekeeping force operating in Georgia's breakaway province regions. So now that Russia is invading does that UN contingent simply convert to being a hostile force, assisting in the seizure of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Supsa pipelines?

Of course the Baku-Novorossiysk pipeline, which runs primarily through Russia, sits available to start pumping Caspian oil to the west if Azerbaijan would only let bygones be bygones.

Royal Dutch Shell Station, Annapolis 48997

As a major exporter of oil and gas, Gazprom and other Russian firms will benefit from the spike in global oil prices caused by the closure of both Georgian ports and the Baku pipelines.

Western news organizations once again appear reluctant to provide any detailed analysis. BP and other oil firms may fret over the loss of production from the Caspian Sea region but soaring oil prices will contribute to a rise in quarterly earnings no matter what the underlying causes may be.

New Olympic Logo

One wonders what threatening words Texas oilman George W. Bush launched at Vlad Putin in the diplomatic section of the bird nest stadium in Beijing. Western news reporters (censored by Communist China right now) could only say that "heated words were exchanged."

Now one must remember that W. is the son of a former CIA director and Putin's early career was as a KGB man. There is more subterfuge here than meets the eye.

White House



Washington Post article
Daily Mail
Times UK