While in Paris recently, practising my own art and photographing the city, I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The pilgrimage I had anticipated as an eager six-year-old proved the closest I have yet come to the documented neuro-chemical feelings typically attributed to religious experience (and is, hopefully, the last time I have an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment in a public place for a while).
We recognise these iconic glass pyramids and think of culture, of mastery, and perhaps, even, of perfection in the field. We see their reflection, itself an impressionist image glittering on the surface of now-calmer metaphoric waters, and in it, the sins of the historically-elitist ‘Academie’ are more easily distorted, or even washed away, hiding in folded curtains of water (perhaps, themselves, so becoming art).
It was fated that the days of Van Gogh would see him misunderstood and rejected by the very same community which would one day study and celebrate him perhaps above all others. Of Da Vinci, to be persecuted on the grounds of Christian morality — of Caravaggio, to be skewered for boisterous recklessness — and of countless other artists’, whose work is not displayed on the more heavily-trafficked floors, their names all but lost to history, eroded from the stone — and for thousands of others, their work to become the dirt beneath our cities, our towns, and our streets, where dust settles on them even now.
It is they to whom I sought to pay my respects, poring over paintings and sculpture and textile for hours, wandering endless rooms filled with art, in a graveyard as much as in a dream. It remains our duty to the global art community to remember them — all of them — through our current actions, as much as it is in our best interest and the best interest of our children (viz. our young students) to examine the works of the masters in our museums.
Buy local art. Encourage others and yourself to enjoy and explore expression: it is here we will find our voice in history. Pay attention to the art made by the artists from lesser-acknowledged communities, because those long-dead masters won’t benefit from your belated respect and adoration… They will.
The University of Glasgow’s fourth issue of the student newspaper, The Glasgow Guardian, is out in print and online now! Lots of great work went into this issue and I’m proud to have been a part of it. I am continually impressed by the caliber of people I get to work with and so thankful for these opportunities.
Several of my photographs are featured in online articles this month as well as in print, with a shot of Glasgow’s The People’s Palace making the centre spread this issue and an illustration of Robert Burns (the first piece of ink work I have done in a long while) featured in-print for a news article also available online.
The content this month is particularly amazing, with several important news and features investigations, interesting commentary in views and culture, and entertaining sports section pieces. There’s something for everyone, so if you’re keen on having an interesting morning read, support student journalism, art, and activities, and please check out the website!
Links to online articles featuring my photographs:
The winds are still bitingly cold here in Glasgow, but nature is trying to convince us all it hasn’t let us down. Winter is waining here steadily by the day, and as if to spite the cold, the earliest traces of buds are appearing on some of the city’s more brazen trees (viz., those farther from the banks of the River Clyde and / or the coast).
Glasgow’s People’s Palace features an impressive collection of plants and flowering flora which offer a pleasant distraction from the damp, raw winds and unabating, early fall of the sun. All else of what’s on offer at the fantastic corresponding museum aside, the flora itself allows visitors to get lost in a peaceful, tropical version of an English garden.
A lovely respite from the cold (or the endless heaps of paperwork which accompany the commencement of second term in graduate school).
Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, Scotland, 2016.
Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, Scotland, 2016.
The People’s Palace, Glasgow, Scotland, 2017.
The People’s Palace. Glasgow, Scotland, 2017.
Untitled. The People’s Palace, Glasgow, Scotland. 2016.
Glasgow is a friendly city rife for exploration even on the coldest of days. The winter brings with it the evocation of drab imagery: it is expected that every day spent wandering in this bitter season will include only gales from the North Atlantic to match the monochrome surrounding denizens whose wardrobes seem to have submitted to the bleak conditions. Fortunately, aside from the frigidity of the atmosphere, none of that is accurate… at least not all of the time.
The city is, of course, unforgivingly cold in the winter. Humidity hangs motionless in the air and sinks into even the most weatherproof of clothes indiscriminately. Citisens and visitors old enough to have errands appear as regularly as ever, going about their duties, where children seem less easily affected by the cold, darting between alleys and streets chasing one another on scooters and bikes. Aside from the historic tenement flats overlooking some of the city’s most popular roads, their ancient architecture looms over modernised storefronts as occasional, glamorously sleek structures blink between them.
Living here demands recognition of this fact: it is a confluence of old and new at every turn, an undeniable embodiment of the cyclical nature of life. History is patchworked into every element of life here even in the most modernised parts. Often, this overlap is felt most strongly through the creative freedoms taken by residents of tucked-away homes and buildings: using colour and quirkiness to underline the overlapping ages through architectural self-expression.
I was back in the Northeastern United States for the holiday interim, back in the [strange] Connecticut town I called ‘home’ for twenty odd years once again. Same quirky neighbourhood, same interesting townsfolk, same local paper, same solitarily inexpensive coffeeshop I used to avoid for fear of bumping into the past.
Anyone who has been generally rootless for any number of years can attest to the fact that, when the world barrages you with images you’ve never before processed, your analytical side is sharpened as finely as your subjectivity is tested.
I have found over the past few years that this test has awakened an excitement for the simple things I had, maybe, missed in the past. The town which (in the high school just a few moments walk from my front door) my peers and I would minimally complain about to foster within us a unifying hatred for a common enemy has suddenly become visible through a new lens by most of us who have returned to see the colours we couldn’t before.
I once found this scenery bleak in winter — devoid of colour and bereft of life’s motions (and then I met Glasgow [haha]). Coming back to town after months away in a new city, and after over a year on the other side of the country has changed that perspective: there’s colour exploding everywhere here almost as vibrantly if not more as in autumn.
It’s still not exciting here in a cosmopolitain sense which would excite a teenager or young adult. The biggest town scandals usually centre around the neighbouring Willimantic, Connecticut (still a hotbed for drug activity despite continued success with gentrification attempts) and the latest developments near and around the University of Connecticut. The people here love puns, bookstores, eclectically sensitive musicians posted on street corners, and eccentric characters. Things change year to year, but every year, most things remain the same. It is a community of people in a beautiful setting.
It’s still a sleepy town in the winter, and when it’s this cold outside (in the subzero celsius range), no one wants to part with the fireplace, but we like our spiced alcohol, our funny stories, our town anecdotes, and I am so grateful to have this community to come back to in a life which, by all other accounts, has stripped me of static roots… though I’m definitely not complaining about that.
This was always enough for me, and if nothing else, travel has validated the fact that there truly is beauty here unlike anywhere else in the world.
Guy Fawkes night 2016 arrived with a bang, taking Glasgow in a firestorm of pyrotechnics erupting from every corner of the city. Organised firework events boasted the bigger displays, one of the largest annually hosted on the Glasgow Green, drawing hundreds of onlookers to join in ooh-ing and ahh-ing in the bone-chilling November air.
But graduate school is a foreboding opponent to scheduled inclusion of organised or in any way pre-planned fun, and things of this nature generally tend to escape my notice from time to time. Permitting oneself to celebrate unnecessarily in an environment geared towards the studious immersion in literature and research writing calls for dedication and excellent time management, and there is an element of guilt associated with frivolity. For this reason, the celebration of Halloween 2016 in the United Kingdom was a quiet, adult affair inclusive of two episodes of X-Files before passing out, and a selection of British candy aimed at indulging American traditions which prompts thoughts of “oh… they tried, how sweet”… but really, with the current state of the American political system, I get my horror fix every time I read the news (a tired joke this season, but all-the-more accurate when observed at a great distance).
Celebrations of this nature can be difficult to manage concurrently with serious academic responsibility. Per my experience with the seasonal American cousin, Halloween, When Guy Fawkes night arrived, I figured I could just opt-out in favour of my responsibilities — particularly considering I had already been running around the city all day. But it was not to be.
Moments after returning to my flat — located far enough from all major fireworks events where their sonic booms could not possibly have been a detriment to my research — it started.
Out of the windows, I could see the flashing, colorful lights in blue and red and green and yellow reflecting on the sides of the buildings next to mine, I could feel the red bricks framing the sill shivering in synchronicity with these dramatic flares and all their sounds. Flashes came from everywhere — in every size and colour and form. The explosions rocking my building were a show for a neighbour’s building, whose fireworks I could see clearly from mine. From every direction, fireworks exploded as if to place stars in the black sky — to the left and to the right, from behind and across the not-so-distant River Clyde overlooked by my lower Dumbarton flat. The people in the street below walked among these events as though it were a virtual reality with no hurry to rush to their source or to gain entrance to an official fireworks display. They stood at the bus stop, watching peacefully, not a one worried for being late for a prior engagement, not a one worried for missing a closer perspective on the show. Simply engaged in the encircling show, presenting a faithful belief that the fireworks would again be seen, and that enjoyment of the show — as a part of it — was a singularly more important task than to photograph it exclusively, or to have a “better” view.
The official fireworks events had to have been lovely. But I’m rather glad I missed them in favour of the sight of a wee child in warm white tights and a beautiful blue wool coat crossing the street with her mother, pointing at the bright lights flashing and seeing the mother smile as she scooped the daughter for a better look (and probably to expedite the street-crossing process).
For a few moments, it was like living in a wonderland: a crazy, ridiculous, mildly disrespectful, joyous utopia of a wonderland where detachment from the realities which plague us is a necessary and integral component not just to the culture here but to the well-understood importance of satisfaction with life in general. It seemed as though at every prior moment in my life where there had been fireworks, there had been something else on my mind. Here, those concerns had no place (for now).
So I did my homework later.
Glasgow, Scotland does not give the option to ‘opt-out’ of any cultural event. There is no magic button you can press to be excluded from activities, nothing you can do to seclude yourself in a quiet corner so as to better comprehend the writings you’re mulling over. There is a camaraderie of debauchery and celebration associated with tonight which knows no bounds: everyone is a participant in cultural events in this city simply because those cultural events reach every corner of the populous in spirit and in practice. Glasgow is the crazy friend who pulls you from your flat when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the future and all of your unanswered questions, urging you to escape into some frivolous madness and somehow manages to find it in every corner of the world they happen upon — or force their way into.
It lives through the spirit of the participation of the people, and thereby, it embodies the existence of every person you have ever known to have drawn out from within you a true love for life and for living. It is the fighting until four in the morning to be followed at seven by laughter and play-fighting and collapsing in an exhausted heap before realizing that the impending night will call for the repetition of these events, and that you are doomed to never again sleep the same because you have fallen in love in every sense of the phrase, and there is no cure.
The phrase “People make Glasgow” is a popular identifier for the friendly, inclusive nature of the cultural climate here — and people really do make it a wonderful experience due to their unique individuality and a sociological demographic which cultivates polite, peaceful coexistence. The individuality of those people is responsible for the nature of the city: finding the darkest corners of the city and transforming them into a crazy, wonderful, insane, fun, immersive, excellent learning experience. People really do make Glasgow.
Glasgow, Scotland is welcoming in the chill of autumn with some last beautifully sunny days before the cold, wind, and rain of winter begin.
As fall begins across the hemisphere, different nations celebrate its effects as is their wont, and documenting these precious changes through the lens is, in many ways, a critical part of documenting our cultural experience.
The opportunity to bring a cross-cultural perspective to the field is as exciting and invigorating as breeze is brisk.
From the perspective of a born-and-raised Connecticutian, the arid heat of Northern California is, admittedly, a novelty to me still.
I will always be an anachronism here, as my residential introduction to the region’s extreme summer heat can substantiate — I have demonstrated my naivete with several cases of heat stroke since moving here this time last year, a rookie mistake as the body loses water at a significantly higher and less noticeable rate in the dry heat.
The area is itself at such extreme contrast to the oppressively humid New England summers from which I sought refuge as a child in lakes, streams, and forests, that the shocking visual images from this climate — and the drought herein — which I encounter on the daily are perhaps even more noticeable and remarkable to my eyes (and lens). I recently set myself about the task of photographic documentation wherever I noticed visually-compelling evidence of drought which, while not as shocking to most locals, is demonstrative of the extreme environmental behaviors of the region and human effects upon it.
My travels prior to settling on this Western frontier afforded my acquaintance with the native, homegrown attitude of relative calm surrounding the current extremes of the drought situation which has set numerous records over the past few years. As a result, I have borne witness to the severity of this drought at an accelerated, incremental rate due to past years travel — every three months, as my plane descended into Sacramento International Airport, I could clearly see the staunch, sun-bleached grasses stagnating in the heavy heat of motionless air, irrigation plains cracked and dried, and crop watering systems delivering mists to thousands of rows of flaccid plants.
But even after two years of traveling between opposite sides of the North American continent on this quarterly basis, and almost a calendar year of living just outside of the Sacramento River Valley, I cannot see certain evidence of improvement to the drought situation (or abatement thereof).
Beyond the annual winter and spring rainstorms which pummel the area with practically a year’s-worth of rain in under a few months’ time, little has changed in three years. The presence of these storms, for the past few years, has been not unlike an angsty teenager at holiday meal — silent and inattentive for the duration of the season, glaring from just off in the distance with occasional tumultuous outbursts before disappearing into their room for another nine months.
These storms pour and gust with torrential-force quantities of rain for short periods of time; gutters overflow; flat streets flash-flood; and traffic slows to a crawl. It often feels as though these storms have the capacity to fool those who expect immediate improvement by virtue of their ferocity alone, and I am met with unfailingly predictable responses, usually some variation of “thank goodness, we needed the rain” during chats about the weather with area locals.
Almost universally, it is absolutely acknowledged by native Californians that the situation is indeed extreme, and they are certainly concerned for the well-being of the region agriculturally, culturally, and ecologically. But the perspective of an outside eye affords an acquaintance with the might of mother nature unlike the undertones of passive acceptance in their conversations.
These statements garner a feeling of cultural security and even faith in the heroic, antecedent storm, as though its fervor will have certainly gone a far way toward rectifying the extremity of overall water deficit, and a sigh of relief is warranted as a celebratory milestone in comprehending the conclusion of the problem at last. The storms seem to quell the concerns of those who are and have been exposed to the area on a daily basis for the entirety of their lives, and by nature of this potential social desensitisation and of their extremity, it can seem to an outsider as though residents have missed the sky for the thunderheads.
Since drought has been an important and ever-present element of California’s climatology for centuries, not many residents of this University town seem intimately familiar with its cultural and environmental significance beyond the frequently-heard “it’s so hot” coming from corner tables at the local coffee shop.
Apart from these vehement expressions of dislike for the heat, and from the occasional soapboxing out-of-state University student panicked by the extreme differences they are seeing for the first time, I have not made the acquaintance of many individuals who can comment on the cultural effects of the worsening situation in a non-academic context. Outside of the town of Davis (the demographic of which is, in truth, quite varied if academic overall), attitudes are largely the same with varying fluctuations within different social circles.
I believe this to be culturally equivalent to the prideful bravery with which New Englanders boast about their adventures in the ice and snow (the phrase ‘hold my iced coffee and watch this’ calls up memories of my mother driving me to school in weather most districts would have closed for). To both abate inevitable accusations of regional ethnocentrism, and to negate colloquial stereotyping of the pretentious New Englander; in an ever-changing global climate, human beings clearly possess great power, and mother nature, amazing strike-force adaptability. Due to their continuous exposure to the situation, it seems many residents of California are as accustomed to the extreme drought conditions as New Englanders are to the presence of heavy snowfall and frigid temperatures which would cripple other regions of the country, thus resigning themselves to the inevitable lack of water given its correlation with regional identity… presenting clear cultural equivalence between two incredibly different sociological dynamics and humanizing all in the face of striking environmental change.
After some reflection, I felt as though local perspective of current drought phenomenon begat as much a deficit in current photojournalistic documentation efforts of the drought as there is of rainfall itself. While my perspective is that of an objective observer from a starkly different native climate, this affords the investment potential of artistic objectivity, the project thusly resting on the hope that artlessness itself, in this sense, can convey more with simplicity than current, more intricate efforts.
Of course, this photography project comes with a certain disclaimer: I cannot claim that a year’s residency or two years prior of effectual tourism permits me the authority to comment on the lives or opinions of Californians (nor would I ever qualify to truly be a Californian as I value the use of turn signals too highly), and so I can neither speak to their personal adaptability to drought beyond what is directly observed, nor to their individual political stances on an environmental issue which segues into a deeply controversial political topic.
But with each smog-fueled sunset shrouding the far-off hills in a gaseous byproduct of human capitalism, our anthropocentric endeavors become clearer. The shade of the overpasses and underlying stagnant water will remain barren concrete citadels beset by abandonment and scorched with an unforgiving sun, the only refuge to species who have reached the limit of their environmental tolerance, and to those of the human species abandoned by society itself.