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Archive for the ‘Light’ Category

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The Tetons & the Snake River, Grand Tetons National Park, 1942 c, Ansel Adams

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Mobile Homes. Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973, Robert Adams

The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.

Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

PHOTOS

Social landscape photography portrays the effects of human beings on the earth; it is photography of the human-built or human-altered landscape. It may incorporate the natural landscape, the usual domain of landscape or nature photography—but it is most distinctly not about the natural world. In the more traditional approach human beings, any sign of human beings like roads and cabins, and any human effects on earth are notably absent. I believe this general attitude is a deliberate absence.

Consider the work of the exceptionally talented—and exceptionally limited—photographer, an American icon producing iconic photographs of the American landscape, Ansel Adams. Despite my love of his photos, Adams rarely shows people (and when he does, as in his Manzanar Japanese-American internment camps series, they look like rocks).

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Dust Bowl, Dallas, South Dakota, 1936, uncredited

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Yakima Washington, 1939, Dorothea Lange

Sharply contrasting with Adam’s photos are those from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. These vividly and intentionally portray the effects of human beings on the earth—sand storms, fleeing farmers, destroyed farms. This is the crux of social landscape photography—how we human beings interact with the earth. This expanding awareness reflects our larger concerns with global climate change.

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Point de vue du Gras, France, 1826 or 1827, Joseph-Nicephore Niepce

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Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 1838. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre

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Nelson’s Column under construction, Trafalgar Square, England, 1844, William Henry Fox Talbot

Social landscape photography has been around since the first photographs—or heliographs as they were first called. Consider the first photographs by Niépce, Daguerre, and Talbot. All involved buildings and people, implicitly the interaction between human beings and the earth.

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Quai d’Anjou du Matin, Paris, 1924, Eugène Atget

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New York City, 1888 c, Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives

Consider Eugene Atget at the turn of the last century. Recognizing the massive changes on Paris and environs created by the industrial era—and for other reasons, financial in particular—he assiduously photographed “The City of Light.” Likewise, his contemporary, Jacob Riis, newly emigrated from Denmark to the United States, photographed tenements in New York City which resulted in major changes in housing laws and the end of the most dangerous housing.

For contemporary examples, look at the aerial photos of numerous photographers like Alex McLean; Marilyn Bridges with her book, Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes, and the highly popular series called The Earth From Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

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Fleet of B-52 Bombers at the “Bone Yard,” Tucson, Arizona, 1991, Alex MacLean

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Mesoamerica, 1986 c, from Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes by Marilyn Bridges

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Icebergs & Adelie penguin, Adelie Land, Antarctica, date unknown, Yann Arthus-Bertrand

In 1975, confirming the need for an expanded sense of landscape photography, the prestigious photographic venue, The George Eastman House, in Rochester NY, presented the startling exhibit, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape. Oddly enough, given last names, one of the featured photographers was Robert Adams, no relation to Ansel—a dramatic contrast. Attesting to the importance of this genre, since 1981 various adaptations of the original exhibit have been circulating worldwide. In 2013 Greg Foster-Rice and John Rohrbach edited and published Reframing the New Topographics, which brings the genre up to date.

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In my own work and teaching, motivated primarily by the global climate crisis, I detect a clue to my new direction, long nascent, but now more clearly evident: Social Landscape Photography.

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Downtown development in Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

LINKS

The New Topographics, on artsy.net

New Topographics: “Landscape and the West – Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography” by Kelly Dennis

Deadpan Geometries: Mapping, Aerial Photography, and the American Landscape” by Kim Sichel

Photos of Boston’s new Seaport district

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Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.

― Jack Kerouac

Inspired by a photo exhibition I recently viewed called The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip at the Detroit Institute of Arts (based on a book by Aperture with a fuller array of photos on the same theme) I will now sketch my Open Road experiences, hoping later to flesh this out more fully as perhaps a photographic memoir.

First however, I should nod a thanks to Jack Kerouac and his revolutionary, and for me highly affecting book, On the Road. I read it when well into my 30s, with family in Maine, camping for much of the summer. I recall reading it while riding in our car to Branch Lake. The book was old and decrepit. So as I finished a page I tossed it out the window, heedless of environmental consequences, but I thought then, as pages flew like autumn leaves, a fitting reflection on the ephemerality I detected as a subtheme of the novel.

When a youth during the depression unable to find work in his hometown of Dubuque Iowa, Fran, my dad, hopped a freight train and landed in Chicago. No doubt he influenced me to, as soon as possible, join the Open Road, even tho at that moment I was yet unborn.

I attempted a similar vagabond trip—my first real road trip— when, at the age of about 4, I decided to run away from my pleasant, safe, comfortable, relatively loving Southside home in Chicago. I gathered a few things, probably candy bars and pop (and toilet paper), into a large hankie or bandana, and tied it to a stick. I threw the contraption over my shoulder and set out. I made it to the local school, Caldwell Elementary, about two blocks from my home, and quickly returned.

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Skip Schiel, age 4, 1945

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Skip Schiel in his First Communion suit, age 7, 1946

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Skip Schiel with Tom Rinkach (L), age 11, 1952 c.

While at Boy Scout camp in Michigan, my buddy, Kruli, and I ditched the program to make an all day hike. Without permission we left before breakfast, returned after dinner, and carried with us only brownies that my mom had sent me—and that crucial toilet paper.

Between my junior and senior high school years, my dad and I canoed Boundary Waters along the Minnesota-Canada border. I felt responsible for him, even tho I was only 17 years old. Until that trip I’d resisted the idea of attending college. Since my father was a salesman (a traveling salesman at that, eventually in charge of a large Midwest region, warranting many road trips for him) and sometimes very persuasive, I expected he would urge me—incessantly as he’d done before—to attend college, make something of myself, utilize my interests and possible gifts in engineering to become an electronic engineer. During that entire ten-day journey, he never raised the topic.

I decided to attend college. Long bouts of paddling, lugging our canoe over portages, making camp, and cooking together might have softened his outlook about me, developing his trust that I’d make the correct decision.

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Frank (Fran) J. Schiel, 1958, Boundary Waters, Minnesota-Canada, photo by Skip Schiel

Fran and my mother, Pearl, with my sister Elaine when she was old enough, every summer drove long distances for vacations—West Coast to San Francisco, East Coast to Maine. Dad photographed; eventually I took over, probably reluctantly. Mainly he (because I refuse such setups) created endless images of Pearl in front of some scene or historic marker.

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Frank Schiel, Elaine (sister), Pearl, Chicago’s Southside, 1954 c. photo by Skip Schiel (probably)

My big road trip break was in the summer of 1959. I’d just graduated Arlington Heights High School in a Chicago suburb, felt a strong urge to “go west, young man, go west,” and boarded the Union Pacific train to Utah where I thought I might find summer work, possibly on a ranch. Shortening that story (which could constitute one chapter—or even the entire memoir) I ended up working the balloon dart and bingo games with a carnival that paired with rodeos traveling thru Colorado and Wyoming—the summer of my big rupture from family.

During term breaks at Iowa State University I would often not return home (long distance, 300 miles) but instead hitchhike around the Midwest, with camera, with curiosity, producing numerous slide shows that predictably bored all the neighbors and family I could persuade to watch.

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Skip Schiel in Cimarron, Arlington Heights, IL, 1960 c.

Still at Iowa State, I bought my first vehicle, a Ford pickup truck that I named Cimarron (after a western movie), and let it cart me around to places distant and exotic, like the Black Hills. Amidst wandering defecating, fornicating buffalo, sacred to the Lakota Sioux, I camped, I photographed.

My first international road trip was to Romania in 1977, the year my father died. As an instructor of filmmaking at Boston College, I’d received a scholarship to attend a program in Cluj Romania, in the heart of the Transylvanian Alps, as an introduction to Romania. It was skilled propaganda during the era of the tyrant, Nicolae Ceaușescu, designed to generate positive impressions of this then communist and iconoclastic country. Altho by now I’d identified as a photographer and movie maker I decided not to bring equipment for this first, for me monumental, road trip. Instead, I’d observe, observe as purely and contemplatively as I could. For this decision I am forever grateful. When to not photograph is a skill difficult to develop.

With my wife Lynn and our two daughters, we bought a black VW bug and drove it each summer, Katy and Joey stuffed in the back seat, luggage hurtling from the roof top carrier, back to Chicago and Racine Wisconsin to visit grandparents. I photographed along the way.

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Joey, Skip, Katy (left to right), Watertown Massachusetts, 2009

For three months in 1979, one year after Pearl’s death, two years after Fran’s, I visited Nepal and my sister Elaine and her husband Bob, studying Buddhism with a lama at the Swayambhu monastery. I made numerous road journeys, including one with a guide to Helambu, the foothills of the Himalayas. Lots of mountain walking then.

I should add the many mountain hikes with family and my former partner Louise over a long period of time—White Mountains, Green Mountains, Sierra Nevada, etc. Don’t they constitute travel along the open road, a very open and winding road?

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Skip & Louise, White Mountains, 2002 c.

In 1982, a pivotal year for me, I drove across the Great Plains alone and discovered American Indians.

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Rosebud Reservation, 1983

Which led to 1983 when I bused the same route at the end of winter, and took up residence on the Rosebud Indian reservation, hosted by Jesuits. I lived and photographed there for one month.

(In this report I do not constrain myself to car-based road trips only, but include other modes of transport, soon to be foot and plane, never boat or ship, surprising because of my love of water-borne transport.)

In 1988, the first of my many Alaskan journeys (roughly every 3 years) I walked solo the Chilkoot Gold Rush Trail. Since then I’ve made other Alaskan exploits, alone and with my Juneau family.

In the summer of 1989 my newly discovered mate, Louise, and I flew across the country to visit her family. Followed in the summer of 1990 by a car trip across that same continent to meet my family. With stops in Chicago for cousins Karen and Bob and aunt Anna Mae and uncle Spike, Rockport for cousin Ginger, Dubuque for uncle Eldon, Napa California for her mother and father, Elizabeth and David, and Juneau for Elaine and Bob. Returning, we stopped at Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations and learned about the upcoming Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee that winter. We decided to raise money for the Ride generally and to ourselves participate as support people.

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Elaine, sister (L), and Louise

In early 1990, with Frank Gatti and Tom Sander, I explored South Africa on behalf of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, mostly by car but also for short trips on foot. Circumventing restrictions from apartheid we had reasonably free range of the country.

In Dec 1990, Louise and I boarded the train for Denver, rented a 4-wheel drive SUV to help as support people and participated for 2 weeks on the frigid plains. We camped out some nights, stayed in school gymnasiums on others. Louise walked the final day with Buddhist walkers into the Wounded Knee Massacre site for our final ceremonies, Wiping the Tears and Mending the Sacred Hoop. Here she met Jun-San, a nun of the Japanese Buddhist order, Nipponzan Myohoji, that would lead inexorably to more road trips we shared—almost entirely by foot.

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Morning circle, Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Big Foot Ride to Wounded Knee, December 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

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Lakota lands, South Dakota, 1990, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1995 I joined the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War 2 from a Japanese perspective. We walked (mostly, also used bus, train, and plane) thru Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Running out of money in Hungary after about 4 months, I returned home to raise more money (with help from Louise and daughter Katy) and incidentally joined the Turtle Island pilgrimage that Jun-San, one of the Buddhist nuns, had organized to support native rights. We walked from Plymouth Massachusetts, around Lake Ontario, to New York City, to learn the story of Peacemaker (the founder of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy). Staying on reservations and reserves (in Canada), walking thru the Hudson River Valley in the spring, we finally arrived at a major conference in NYC about violence. We walked some 1000 miles in about 3 months.

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Auschwitz main gate, December 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Croatian women, Lipic Croatia, former Yugoslavia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

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Boy with peace crane, Cambodia, 1995, photo by Skip Schiel

At the end of that long walk I returned to the Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage and walked from Thailand to Japan, thru Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The journey of a lifetime—until the next one.

Then in 1998 on the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage I and many others, mostly European Americans, African-Americans, and Japanese walked from Leverett Massachusetts, down the coast to Savannah Georgia, thru the deep south to New Orleans. I left that pilgrimage for one of my own, first driving thru the Mississippi Delta to Chicago and across to Leverett in Western Massachusetts, and then by train back south for 4 months of pro bono photography to groups we’d met during the Middle Passage Pilgrimage.

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From the book, The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black Cargo, by Tom Feelings

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Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, Ingrid Askew, co-founder & co-director, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

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Gulf Coast, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1998, photo by Skip Schiel

In 1999 I rejoined the pilgrimage in South Africa and remained there for 4 months doing photography.

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Robben Island, South Africa, Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage, 1999

Subsequently (and earlier), driven mainly by Louise’s enthusiasm, she and I joined Nipponzan Myohoji for various walks: to and around Walden Pond in Massachusetts; in 1992, commemorating the Columbian quincentenary in a counter cultural manner, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Reno Nevada; numerous Walk for a New Spring journeys thru Boston and environs; and the Hiroshima Flame Walk in DC (which was mostly Louise because by now my enthusiasm for such long walks had waned and Palestine-Israel had taken over).

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Louise, 1995 c., photo by Skip Schiel

And currently Palestine-Israel and Detroit. In Detroit I bike around the sprawling city. In Palestine-Israel for short periods I rent a car and have traveled the entire length and breadth of that small (by United States standards) region, mainly by bus and shared taxi—Negev Desert, Galilee, Golan Heights, and the Israeli coast, also Gaza, by foot and rides with friends.

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Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud

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Pre-wedding party, Gaza, 2013, photo by Skip Schiel

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Johnny Price, Detroit, 2011 c., photo by Skip Schiel

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Ghost Bike, marking a bicyclist’s death, Schiel’s folding bike in the background, Detroit, 2016, photo by Skip Schiel

Later I may add various other photographic tours I’ve made in the United States while touring with my Palestine-Israel presentations, especially south as far as Florida by train and bus, Chicago by train and car, and the West Coast, California to Alaska, by airplane, train and car. At each location I prod myself to walk, often to photograph.

When will I reach the end of my road? And how will the end manifest? Who if anyone might emerge as a solid travel partner or am I fated to walk this path alone (probably, most unlikely that current close friends will ever join me). In addition, my peers and I are aging.

I conclude this little foray into my road trips with two quotes, one by the illustrious peripatetic poet, Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, the other by what might have been a fellow walker but this was not to happen, my former wife (or simply my former as we call each other), Lynn.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am large, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me…

—Walt Whitman

And from Lynn, her inscription in Whitman’s, Leaves of Grass, that she gave me shortly after we’d met.

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2016

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LINKS:

The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (at the Detroit Institute of Arts, summer 2016)

The book the exhibition is based on, by the same title

My photos

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go” in 8 parts, part one

Auschwitz to Hiroshima: A Pilgrimage, 1995

On Turtle Island, A Pilgrimage, 1995

My account specifically about my Open Road experiences in the troubled lands of Palestine and Israel:

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2

And my most recent writing and photography from Detroit (as of posting this blog)

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The universal door manifests itself
in the voice of the rolling tide.
Hearing and practicing it, we become a child,
born from the heart of a lotus,
fresh, pure, and happy,
capable of speaking and listening
in accord with the universal door.
With only one drop of the water
of compassion
from the branch of the willow,
spring returns to the great Earth.

—Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (as quoted by Thich Nhat Hanh)

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Courtesy of Bread & Puppet Theater

I suffer the perpetual difficulty of pure listening. No distractions, no meanders, no questions or reflections of any sort, the purest form of listening possible. Deep listening as taught by the venerable Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. No visual observations or any other sensory input. Is this even possible? Is listening ever pure? Is the mind ever truly empty? Could the Buddha do it, when in his prime? Could Thich Nhat Hanh himself when healthy? Can anyone teach pure listening? What might be some techniques?

Shifting to my usual tool, photography, I might ask the same questions. Photography without distractions—or are distractions important to expand vision? Photography without…without what? What is the essence of pure mind photography, expanded vision, seeing as if the other senses were detached, the mind itself dormant so that the connection between scene observed and camera is clear, only the retina and camera sensor involved, a direct channel?

Have I ever achieved pure or deep listening? Possibly I do it best when in conversation, not in simply listening. And photography, pure and deep photography, maybe when most attentive to the larger world—including my inner world—I make the purest photos, the most powerful. Where was my mind’s concentration when I met the young men in the Gaza city park and chose one (or did he choose me?) to photograph?

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Gaza City, 2012 c.

What was my thinking? Did I see his eyes thru my viewfinder, my frame, via the inner mechanism of my camera? Did I concentrate better because I was distracted by thoughts about the camera’s settings, position, the scene’s lighting? How pure was this seemingly impure process that may have resulted in what some say is a beautiful, moving, extraordinary photograph?

Then, shifting again, to my life. How can I live a pure life? How does pure listening help, if it does, pure photography, if it does, pure eating, pure sleeping, pure fucking, if any of these are possible?

I pray. That seems to help. I call on and regularly thank my muses, maybe surrogates for what others might name god or higher power or inner light or the divine or spirit.

(Asked of Thich Nhat Hanh in 2001 shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon) If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him?…

If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.

After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will….

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Deep Listening Hut, constructed in homage to Thich Nhat Hanh, in his root (first) temple, Tu Hieu, Hue, Vietnam, photo by Skip Schiel (copyright), 1995

(Thanks to Louise Dunlap, Aravinda Ananda, and Joseph Rotella whose workshop on writing and The Work That Reconnects inspired this writing and several more possible blogs to follow.)

LINKS:

Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening | Super Soul Sunday | Oprah Winfrey Network (short video)

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Written for a group exhibition at the Friends Meeting at Cambridge, about artistic process.

…designed to reveal the process or steps involved in producing our art. If our final product is a destination, what is our journey, and how is meaning created along the way?…There has been a trend for museums to reveal the artist’s journey or process as part of an exhibition…

—Exhibits Committee

Simply put: listen to that still small voice; find a place where the noise of civilization and the quotidian do not drown it out; sit, walk, bicycle, sleep until the notion, the impulse, the need to photograph arises. Then photograph only what presents itself to be photographed (and then maybe a little more).

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Some 50 years ago when I was 21 years old, I heard the whisper of the Great Plains, crossed it alone in my old Ford pickup truck named Cimarron, stopped to listen in the silence, heard only the sound of my own blood rushing thru my cochlea, and made a photograph.

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Around that time, winter 1962—I’d photographed since I was 7 years old, inspired by my father’s gift of a cheap box camera, a Brownie no doubt—I visited the Iowa farm family of one of my best college friends, Mark Chapin. I noticed his father standing by the window, imagined what he might have been feeling, and photographed.

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(Click image for an enlargement)

In the winter of 2004, I joined The Journey of the Magi pilgrimage walking to Bethlehem from Jericho thru the Judean Desert Wilderness, not far from where the devil reportedly tempted Jesus. There I discovered and tried to express the luminous winter desert landscape.

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Finally, urged on by that still small voice, that same year I entered Gaza for the first time, drawn by the knowledge that the American Friends Service Committee had a program there. On subsequent visits facilitated by them, I often wandered thru downtown Gaza City, usually the only foreigner, and one day in 2013 a group of young men signaled an invitation to photograph them. Who is this young man, I pondered, with his multivocal expression? I worry now, after last summer’s violence, whether he still exists. Maybe only in this photograph.

It is said, let your lives be examples, sermons, and images so that you may then walk cheerfully over the earth, answering to the divine in all people, creating images of people and many lands.

This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate. 

—Dorothea Lange

LINKS:

Words at an Exhibition, an earlier blog about my process, with more details and photographs

Photos

Slide show: “And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness & a summary (for the moment & as of 2005) of my photography

“And you will be carried where you do not wish to go,” a photographic witness
(part 8 & earlier, added April 2 – May 24, 2010)

As an Artist, How Do I Survive & Thrive?
Revised and added February 15, 2010

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 1
Newly revised and added January 16, 2010

The Palestine-Israel Kaleidoscope, a memoir-part 2
Newly revised and added January 21, 2010

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Last night, December 21, 2014, was winter solstice, the beginning of returning light.
Tonight is the seventh night of Hahukkah, the festival of lights.
Today is five days before Kwanzaa, a celebration of community, family, and culture.
And today is three days before Christmas, a celebration of hope.

During the holiday season, please take some time off to take care of yourself, your loved ones, and friends. Find time to be with nature, to enjoy the stars, and the white clouds and to truly come home and be at home within ourselves, as Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh, a revered Vietnamese teacher, monk, activist, and poet) always encourages us to do. You may like to write love letters instead of spending money and consuming more. The New Year is a wonderful opportunity to begin anew with ourselves and let go of resentments and regret.

—Monks and Nun of Plum Village (Buddhist community led by Thich Nhat Hanh)

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If you’re interested in my photos of the Boggs School in Detroit, click here.
And for my video about the blacklivesmatter-hanukkah event in Boston last week on the first night of Hanukkah, try this.

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Excerpts from my journal during a 3 week sojourn in Detroit Michigan, late winter 2014, searching for the seeds of the New Miracle of Detroit

(I am planning another 3 week trip to Detroit in November. Please stay tuned.)

PHOTOS

April 5, 2014, Saturday, Detroit, Karen’s home, dining room table

Cool, mid 30s, overcast, mild westerly wind.

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Another big day for photography as I wind down this 3 week spring Detroit sojourn [April 4, 2014]. 4 themes actually [more later on these]. The 1st was the scheduled visit to Alan Kaniarz’s fundamentals of design class at the College for Creative Studies (CCS), a school I’ve been drawn to since visiting Detroit in 2010. I’ve pictured myself teaching photography there. He’d invited me to visit, I’d sought permission from the administration, and finally, because the big administrator never responded to the small administrator in the form of Marcus, Marcus said OK.

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Students were building a piece of wood and metal that seemed to have no purpose other than providing experience fitting pieces together, drilling holes, creating threads, etc. Of course I may have missed the larger context. Women alongside men, blacks alongside whites, tall with short, fat with lean, etc. A good mixture. The equipment was superb, all a woodworker might desire. I thought again of my son-in-law, Phil, and of myself when younger when I had plans to create my own basement shop. And further back, to high school when I took all the shop courses available including metal, wood, electric, and engineering drawing, not so much to prepare for later engineering studies which I followed but because I loved tools and making things.

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How much of my background will show in the photos? Big-small question.

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Alan has excellent rapport with students, joking with them. But he seemed a little lax about distractions. I noticed 2, maybe 3, women peering into their mobile devices while he lectured about lighting. One quickly hid her screen when I approached and pointed my camera at her. Some texted, some looked at female models, I doubt they were doing further research on topics of the day. Had I been Alan I might have required them to stow their phones, as I did with my students at the Jenin Freedom Theater. Which they appreciated.

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The lecture about lighting was to prepare them for their next assignment: design a lighting fixture. So he demonstrated all the sources of light from a facsimile of the first Edison bulb with carbon filament to a string of LEDs controlled remotely so it could change colors and flash. Here revealed, in the span of some 150 years, an array of lighting.

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I thought he might ask me to launch the topic of photographic lighting, magnesium powder to strobe, but he didn’t. How well would I have done this without preparation? (Maybe this was my dream last night?)

That finished, it was lunchtime and I’d not checked my morning’s email. So after exploring the photographic section, meeting no one, seeing students at work, observing the well equipped but perhaps not so often used film darkrooms, and the fine photos made by students, thinking of myself here teaching, I took lunch in the cafeteria (fish sandwich and fries, followed by a large chocolate chip cookie and Americano coffee which I learned is not standard American style coffee but espresso with hot water, a potent concoction which I will try again) and dove into the swift internet stream of CCS.

Rapid does not begin to describe the speed of this free, open Internet connection—67 mb/s download and 64 upload. The speed pushed my Internet speed tester into the red zone. Is CCS to be my new office? Maybe next visit I’ll upgrade my housing to live in Midtown around the corner from CCS.

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TO BE CONTINUED

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The conclusion of my attempt to explicate what I attempt to do photographically.

A BRIEF EARLY HISTORY

I began when my father gave me a camera, probably a cheap Kodak Brownie, at the age of 7.

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Frank Schiel, 1964 c, my father, photo by Skip Schiel

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Caldwell School playground, Chicago’s Southside, 1950 c.,
photo by Skip Schiel

I lost a good Kodak foldout camera at a train station in Michigan while waiting to return from Boy Scout camp when about 12 years old.

Kodak folding camera

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Pearl Schiel, 1954, my mother, photo by Skip Schiel

When I was in high school my father brought out his old high school chemistry notes and perhaps accidentally turned to the section on photographic chemistry. I was immediately entranced and about 5 years later while in college I built my first darkroom in the basement kitchen of the rooming house I shared with other men in Seattle, Washington. They were not happy with the odors.

I hitchhiked around the Midwest during college breaks in the early 1960s to make slide shows and show them to family and neighbors, most of whom fell asleep.

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Self portrait by Skip Schiel, 1960

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Iowa Farm, 1962, photo by Skip Schiel

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The Great Plains, 1962 c, believed by many to be too boring to photograph, photo by Skip Schiel

Partly because of the rotten reception to my slide shows I tried to burn most of my early slides in our basement fireplace, my mother stopped me. I have no idea where those slides are now and do not care.

At some point early in my life I learned that my grandfather Ben Schiel had long ago opened a photographic portrait studio in Dubuque, Iowa. It probably quickly failed as did most of his other enterprises.

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Ben Schiel in front of his Palace Photographic Studio, Dubuque, Iowa, 1910

I am reassured that I might be on a good path by the fact that the Schiel family consists of at least four generations of photographers—my grandfather Ben, my father Frank (a dedicated but talentless amateur), me, and my daughter Joey, full of talent. Who knows, perhaps the illustrious Austrian artist, Egon Schiele, is part of my family lineage. And what will become of my grandchildren, Rex, Cid, and Eleanor?

VALUES I TRY TO EMBODY AND PORTRAY

End suffering and foster enlightenment, traditional Buddhist values.

Do this with my camera, thru participation in struggles for environmental integrity and justice—Charles River, Boston Harbor, and Quabbin Reservoir in 1980s; American Indians begun in 1982; Bread and Puppet Theater, begun in the early 1980s and sporadically continuing; South Africa in 1990 and 1998; working with the Struggles Against Racism photographers’ collective in 1990s; Auschwitz to Hiroshima pilgrimage in 1995; Middle Passage Pilgrimage in 1998; and my 3 current projects, Israel-Palestine beginning in 2003, Detroit which began in 2010, and my new Twilight series, a departure from my politically based work: I explore light, that narrow slice of the 24 hour diurnal cycle known otherwise as the Magic Hour.

SOME EXAMPLES

I call myself a participatory, socially engaged photographer which means I participate in actions striving for justice and then photographically observe and interpret the actions about human rights. I also show conditions which lead to these actions and provide context.

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Skip Schiel in the Dheisheh refugee camp, Bethlehem, 2003, photo by Mark Daoud

I take some risks: I am willing to suffer for the truth. As W. Eugene Smith declared, “I have tried to let truth be my prejudice.”

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Demonstration outside Ofer prison for prisoners’ rights, West Bank, Palestine, 2012

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.

—Robert Capa

My Israel-Palestine photo series is at times controversial. As when a few people at my Quaker meeting walked out of my first slide show, Facts on the Ground, but we’ve reconciled—or are reconciling.

An upcoming lecture of [Schiel’s at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education] is entitled: The Hydropolitics of Israel and Palestine. What photography course would be complete without a little “evil Israelis are dehydrating the innocent Palestinians”-style propaganda? The lecture is overpriced at $2.

…Schiel has many fine photos as well as a gallery. You must understand what a sad joke this is. Foreigners visit, put themselves under the command of local Arab leaders and involve themselves in provoking and providing cover for those who provoke the Israeli soldiers — soldiers who are far more disciplined than to treat them as they probably deserve. 

solomonia.com, 2007

During my last slide show at Friends Meeting at Cambridge in 2012, Eyewitness Gaza, the pro-Israel organization, Stand with Us, and Kerry Hurwitz picketed outside and later tracked me to Chicago. Writing a letter about me to local Jewish leaders, they may have blocked a high school visit organized by the American Friends Service Committee in 2011. On that same tour, showing at a mosque, someone misread my slide show and angrily shut me down—he thought I was pro-Israel.

In 2011, Tom Jackson, with significant help from Adham Khalil in Gaza, made a film about Gaza and me, Eyewitness Gaza, how I work there and why. I feel it accurately portrays my work in that region and of that style, politically informed and intended. Later with much help from Maria Termini, I published a book of my photos with the same title, Eyewitness Gaza.

Eyewitness Gaza (the movie)

A three minute preview

A ten minute preview of Eyewitness Gaza (made early in the editing process)

The full movie, fifty minutes long

An interview with me by Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine

Eyewitness Gaza (the book)


Aside from the message or content, this is my method: experiment; draw from traditions represented by W. Eugene Smith, Dorothea Lange, Sabastio Selgado, Magnum photographers, and many others in my lineage; intend to surprise, entertain, and teach. Bathe the audience in beauty, a beauty that treads the thin line between horror and beauty. As Dostoevsky stated in The Idiot—Beauty will save the world.

… it has been publicly [implied] that I am anti-Semitic because of a cartoon I created expressing sad dismay at the plight and suffering of the Palestinians in the recent bombardment of Gaza [November 2012].

As a cartoonist I am not interested in defending the dominant, the powerful, the well-resourced and the well-armed because such groups are usually not in need of advocacy, moral support or sympathetic understanding; they have already organised sufficient publicity for themselves and prosecute their points of view with great efficiency.

The work of the artist is to express what is repressed or even to speak the unspoken grief of society. And the cartoonist’s task is not so much to be balanced as to give balance, particularly in situations of disproportionate power relationships such as we see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a healthy tradition dating back to the court jester and beyond: to be the dissenting protesting voice that speaks when others cannot or will not.

—Michael Leunig, “Just a cartoonist with a moral duty to speak”.

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