Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses’

11.23.2018

In Memoir, The Examined Life, Wisdom on November 23, 2018 at 8:00 am

It is Black Friday, our new national holiday.  Today we are encouraged to attend the Church of Eternal Retail and asked to take communion at the altar of consumption. I was once a dues paying member of this church. I sat in the pew up front, where the big consumers sit, the ones with fancy black cars and multiple properties. We were the ones who just came back from Europe, or some such place, leaving our trail of particulates behind us at 30,000 feet.

Then, slowly, things began to shift. Here’s how that happened.

One day I was walking my property, a large rectangle of many acres. Our house sat at the back, tucked against a state set-aside of several thousand acres. A nature preserve boarded the other side of our estate. We had a pool. And a pool house. You get the picture. As I walked through the woods deer sprinted in front of me. There was a fox den over by the creek. It was idyllic by any measure. But all that was lost on me on this particular morning. Instead my focus was on a tree that had come down in the last storm. And over there, I noticed a patch of poison ivy spreading unabated. And back by the house, I was obsessed by the weeds that returned week after week, despite the garden crew that plucked them every Friday afternoon. Then it hit me: The stuff I owned had somehow come to own me.

It was a simple, yet powerful, awakening. I was not the owner, but the owned, not master but slave. How did this happen? Simply put, success happened, as is measured conventionally. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself. But success can be a seduction. Odysseus had his crew put wax in their ears and ordered them to tie him to the mast. They were sailing past the Sirens and he wanted to hear their song, but not at the cost of casting himself into the ocean, or wreck his ship on the rocks. He was wise. Success was my siren song and I was whistling the tune. I didn’t have the wisdom to tie myself to the mast . Yet walking through the woods that day, I heard the crashing waves and took heed. A little wisdom came to me that morning and things began to change.

That was about ten years ago. It took time to turn the ship, but turn it we did. We got rid of everything–everything!–and purchased a 28’ Airstream trailer. We lived on the road for a year and a half. It was a study in minimalism. Consumption stopped. There was no place to put that new fleece. No reason to look at those new flat screen HD TVs. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If you seek tranquility, do less…do less, better.” For me, it became, if you seek tranquility (freedom), own less, purchase less, have less–and be better for it. Be free.

So, on this day of national consumption, I exercise my new wisdom. I note with gratitude the path I ended and the new path I embarked on. I turn with appreciation to the few things I own and better cherish them for the scarcity. I reject the consumption that marks this day and embrace the eternal and lasting, as I understand it, wisdom, simplicity, and gratitude.

“She spent her whole life trying to understand…”

In Books, Life, Literature, Photography, Thinkers, Writers, Writing on March 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

My Father

“She spent her whole life trying to understand...” caught my eye. It was a blurb in a New York Time’s obituary. The woman, recently deceased, spent her whole life trying, according to the obit, to understand the problem of poverty. An admirable pursuit, certainly. But what got me was the concept of devotion to an idea as a life-long pursuit. My mother once, many years ago, commented that I like ideas more than I like people. I don’t think it was a compliment. I’m not sure, either, if it is true–but I’m not saying it isn’t. Regardless, the notion of pursuing an idea, a life quest, has always been compelling. Trouble is, I don’t have a nagging singular curiosity. My curiosity is more broad-brush. Or is it?

I’ve been thinking, in this vein, about similarities, if any, between my photography, my reading, my writing and my thinking. Years ago, as an undergrad, I took a class in Joyce. We read Ulysses. Aside from all that suggests–the long sentences, the syntax, the difficulty, the beauty, the song, the brilliance–what I came away with was the understanding that the minutiae of life, observed and rendered by the artist, can be profound. Through the years this notion has only deepened; principally by my reading, Montaigne through Didion, and my study of photography, Cartier-Bresson through Friedlander, and its practice. I think that is why I am drawn to the streets as a photographer. (Or in the case of the image above, the pub. My father at the table, me in the mirror–a brief life moment, profound only in that sense. Or as the Zen Master might say, The world in a single atom.) These moments add up and together they suggest something more. That is why I practice the type of photography I do: I can’t afford to let anything slip by. It is ineffable, if practiced properly.

Which brings me back to the header, She spent her whole life…

I have not spent my life doing one particular thing with concentrated focus. But now, at this place, I see that I have been adding pearls to a strand, as it where. Together, perhaps they will make something beautiful, but that is a high-calling and I’m not sure my ears can pick up that frequency. Instead, I simply desire to stay aware of collecting them, the pearls. That would be good. What would be even better, what would be great, would be to stop collecting and simply stay aware.

Not for the coffee table.

In Creativity, Photography on February 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm

A few weeks ago I ordered some photography books. Not for the coffee table. For the eye. They are:

Robert Doisneau, a Taschen “Icon” series book.

Bernard Plossu, So Long

and two monographs:

Edouard Boubat &

Lee Friedlander

Not a photography book, per se, but I also purchased Clive Scott’s Street Photography, From Atget to Cartier-Bresson. I have not read it yet, but it seems a bit pedantic. Stay tuned. I also reread David Hurn and Bill Jay’s fantastic book, On Being a Photographer. Every photographer should have this on the shelf.

When the books arrived, Carole remarked, “More photography books?” She commented on how big and heavy and thick they are. I said, “If I were a poet, the books I’d study would be small and slim. But I’m a photographer, not a poet.” (I’ve heard it argued, however, that all the artistic disciplines aspire to that of poetry. That seems correct.)

The one I to talk about, because it has been the most thought (eye?) provoking of the group is the Friedlander, properly the Peter Galassi MoMa’s retrospective exhibition book, 2005. Thought provoking because I never much cared for Friedlander’s work, to put it bluntly. Now, though, like so many things in life, I think I didn’t care for it because I didn’t understand it. Not that I “get” Friedlander. At least not everything. Much of his work is Hindemith to  Stravinsky, Pollock to Jasper Johns, if those references make any sense. (Ulysses to Finnegan’s Wake?) I know I don’t get the “landscape” work of the 90s. But here’s another reference that seems to make sense to me. If Cartier-Bresson is Dickens; and Robert Frank is Hemingway; then Friedlander is David Foster Wallace. If you’re not the music or literary type, what I’m trying to say is that Friedlander is an evolution of the discipline in a post-modern sense.

They say that there is nothing extraneous in a Friedlander photograph, which is saying a lot. His most successful work is thick and complex, and not easy. That is largely the late(r) stuff. It’s not as witty, and strikes me as more earnest. But what is to be said about anyone’s work over thirty or forty years? Just the consistency is inspiring.  What I started by saying, that there is nothing extraneous in his photographs, is startling to me–and freeing somehow. It’s as if the (apparent) randomness, at first glance, is to the contrary, order. What a way to look at life! Is that art? I think so.