On Lifelong Learning: “Mrs. Jensen, My Head is Exploding!”

During my career as a writing instructor, I’ve had more than one student look at me in bewilderment, hold his or her head and protest, “Mrs. Jensen, my head is exploding!” I’m starting to feel that way about my own life and this year of 2021 in particular. I have always felt guided by some benign inner spirit to my next book or conversation or online class, but lately, I don’t feel so much “guided” as dragged through the streets of lifelong learning by the hair.

In January, I suddenly found myself in the dark room learning how to shoot, develop, and print analogue pictures. I’ve never really been interested in black and white or the darkroom, but it’s like that spirit I mentioned did a program override and switched on the light of passion for me.

I didn’t even do that much; I may have put in ten or twenty hours, but from my first roll of film, I printed “Calla Valeria,” which was promptly juried into an analogue photography show at the LightBox Gallery in Astoria, Oregon.

 

DRamatic white calla lily against a black background.
Calla Valeria. Silver Gelatin.
I took this calla lily at Toad Hall in Yachats, Oregon, which is owned by my friend Valeria, so I called it after her: Calla Valeria.

Shortly after getting down the basics of the dark room, I had an opportunity to take a second class in making Platinum Palladiums, another old school process.

A dust devil kicks up dust in the long grass as stars appear overhead.
Dust Devil, Grass, Stars. Platinum Palladium. The black edges are characteristic of the palladium process. I love the feeling of the spirit moving across the land in this photo, as if the Invisible Presence blew the grass, the dust, and made the stars dance.

Meanwhile, I was also working on my I Dream in Gold photos. I made several which are for sale in Eugene, Oregon at the Karin Clarke Gallery at the Gordon.  One of my favorites was juried into a show at Maude kerns Art Center with the theme “Be Here Now.” My piece was of autumn’s last light on autumn’s last long grasses up on Mt. Pisgah. I was pretty thrilled when it sold.

Where I fit in the world—a passing shadow between the little lights and dark river.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.”

Rumi

 

Golden fall grasses.
“Mt. Pisgah: Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  Hand -gilded inkjet print on vellum. I really do love it when the grasses lie down in the autumn in swirls and vales. What causes those? It seems like some large and slumbrous animal has bedded down for the night and left  the grass bent in its path. I love the way the light makes a a path of gold through the long colonnade of oaks.

But then the Lifelong Learning Genie really took me for a ride when I was led to the online class platform called Domestika. A wonderful young teacher named Danny Bittencourt introduced me to the concept of Hybrid Photography. In this practice, the photograph itself is printed out and the print is subjected to any one of a number of modifications: it can be burned, buried, frozen, folded, spindled or mutilated according to the artist’s inner vision. It is then re-photographed and shaped into a final work of art.

 

The portrait of the artist has been perforated and rephotographed with light shining through the holes.
Star Portrait. This self portrait is an example of Hybrid Photography in that I have altered the original print with an ice pick and then rephotographed it, so the new print looks like starlight shining through my face.  I have grown to love this photo.  I really do feel guided by many bright stars; I feel I was born under the most beautiful constellation in the night sky, and this portrait says that to me about me.

I caught the Domestica online learning bug, and the next class I took was also from Danny Bittencourt, “The Fine Art Self Portrait.” All of these classes have required me to set up a studio and stretch myself technically while artistically also going places that might not be so comfortable. I took plenty of clunkers, but as is the way with the magic in this world, I was fooling around looking for ideas when I suddenly remembered a dream from 2007 and the art I drew of it. In the dream, a famous Yogi Dream Master had put a blue stone in my hand. I found the stone in my jewelry box, and here are the two photos; both touch into that Other Realm which so pulls me toward its shadows and its depths, its flickering lights in the dusk.

This is a drawing of my hand, white on black paper. It has a blue eye in the palm, and the caption says, "This blue agate eye is very ancient and was given to me by the late Tibetan dream yoga master Tarab Tulku. Oct. 22, 2007."
The Blue Agate Eye. This is a drawing of my hand, white on black paper. It has a blue eye in the palm, and the caption says, “This blue agate eye is very ancient and was given to me by the late Tibetan dream yoga master Tarab Tulku. Oct. 22, 2007.”
This mysterious self portrait re-enacts the dream of receiving the blue agate. I am holding my hand over myn face palm upward and the blue oval agate is onit. A sprinkle of gold glitter repeats my inner theme, "I Dream in Gold."
The Blue Agate Eye 2021. This mysterious self portrait re-enacts the dream of receiving the blue agate. I am holding my hand over my face palm upward and the blue oval agate is on it. A sprinkle of gold glitter repeats my inner theme, “I Dream in Gold.”

This has been a journey through many kinds of photography, and all of them have posed technical challenges, but as always, I am amazed and grateful at the powerful way photography serves to bring messages of presence and intent from, as Rumi puts it, “that inner world of which we know so little.”

And I am always glad to bow aside when Rumi once again appears to have the last word:

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”

—Rumi

 

 

 

 

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