Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Tolstoy’

…the meaning of doing a thing seriously…

In Creativity, Literature, Music, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on May 16, 2010 at 5:26 am

I was considering an application to grad school last week. I’m 54 and too old (or disinterested?) for school. Maybe. I dropped out of graduate school three times. That was many years ago, when the kids were younger. I think, really, I used them–the kids–as an excuse. Actually, I’m not very good at taking direction. I like to do what I want to do. I’m spoiled that way. And I have authority issues. Graduate school was too confining. But as I was explaining to a friend recently, I’m scattered, I’m all over the place and think some focus would serve me well. He took issue with my logic. He’s a recently retired academic, so he has some perspective. He argued that there are not enough people who simply are curious and pursue their curiosities, wherever they may lead. Academia is good at giving people direction, sometimes too good, he suggested. He has a point. I am a genius at self-imposed discipline. But I am a rebel at other-imposed discipline. I am curious and want to chase my curiosities down the rabbit hole. As I confessed, I’m spoiled that way.

I was saying, I was considering an application for a graduate program and one of the questions asked that I list my influences, intellectual and scholarly influences specifically. It was a good question. It gave me pause. I read a lot and always have. But, as I said, I’m all over the place. As an essayist, I’d have to list Montaigne, E.B. White , and Guy Davenport, as influences. Thinkers include Nietzsche and Thoreau. I’m a photographer too, and in that discipline I consider Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander and Eugene Smith as top drawer influences. Years ago, I studied classical music and counted Villa-Lobos, Sor and Segovia as influences. No matter the activity, I’ve attempted to recognize who has gone before me and learn from them.

Aside from the list making, the question gives one a chance to think about the meaning of doing a thing seriously–to write, or read, compete, compose, study, invent, discover–and how to measure that activity. If history is a progressive continuum, we are all subject to being measured against it. Has history made itself known personally? If you’re a photographer, whether you realize it or not, you take pictures with an established image-making knowledge. You’re a landscape photographer: Ansel Adams. A journalist: Cartier-Bresson, And so forth for all the disciplines. The application made me take notice of the voices whispering through the fog of the past.

For me, books are the most visual reminder of history’s influences. When I look at my shelves, the names and titles comfort me, like a friend’s hand on my shoulder. Above I used the phrase,  if history is a progressive continuum. When I see books on a shelf, or listen to a Beethoven sonata, history becomes the present, the wafer becomes the body and the wine the blood. If history is a continuum, I am, in these moments, one with it, one with the river in which I am wading. That is the nature of art. That is what makes a thing lasting and the opposite of the ephemeral. The influences of history, when we recognize and manifest them, cease to be passed. They become present. When we embody them, they are the end of history.

Writing, Photography and Bliss

In Creativity, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on February 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I’ve read that if you have to write every day, you’re a writer. Conversely, if you are not compelled to write every day, if you don’t have to write every single day, then you’re probably not a writer. I recall seeing somewhere that Tolstoy said the writer, like the musician, must practice every day.

There is a passage in the book On Being A Photographer about Josef Koudelka. One of the authors, Bill Jay, relates that


Josef Koudelka (1983)

Koudelka was visiting him. Koudelka was “shooting pictures around my cabin. I couldn’t understand what he was seeing, as the images seemed to have no connection with his known work. He said ‘I have to shoot three cassettes of film a day, even when not “photographing” in order to keep the eye in practice.’ ” Jay goes on to say, “That made sense.  An athlete has to train every day, although the actual event occurs only occasionally.”

One my photography mentors, Magnum photographer Constantine Manos, a friend of Koudelka’s, told me that Koudelka had once been flown to Paris to accept a prestigious award. He was put up in a fancy hotel, but left it to go sleep on the floor of a friend’s apartment. Koudelka only cares about photography, Manos told me. Everything else is foreign to him.

Funny, Koudelka’s name came up in conversation recently. I was having lunch with my friend, documentary photographer, Thatcher Cook and was bemoaning the winter chill that had set it. It had killed street life in Portland, stalling my Portland project. (Not to mention that some days were so cold I could not feel my shutter to release it.) Thatcher said that Koudelka used the winter months to develop and print what he had previously exposed, presumably in the warmer seasons. I like that idea and find some solace in it, as it keeps the photography spark alive during the dark winter months of less activity. (Another good reason to shoot film!) But, I also know that when Garry Winnogrand died he left behind more than 2500 rolls of unexposed film. Imagine, 100,000 exposures he made but never saw (good reason to shoot digital, eh?).

The point being, photographers shoot. Writers write. Athletes train. Musicians practice. Joseph Campbell famously stated, “Follow your bliss.” It is a luxury, you say? No, if you want to be alive it’s a necessity. Go do what you do. Listen for the drum beat, follow it. Go. Do it.