Palnita, Art of the Ancient Americans

Palnita, Art of the Ancient Americans (pen and ink, 2011) is an abstract drawing inspired by the inhabitants of North America, as they existed approximately twelve thousand years ago.

The blues, greys and greens form a purposeful shape that evokes the original Americans’ way of life. The drawing’s outline of an arrowhead, axe, and pummel represents the basic tools for hunting, defense, and construction—the essentials for living.

The intricate interior design of man reaching across open country symbolizes the peoples’ journey from the Bering land passage from Asia to the northwestern edge of North America, with outstretched fingers straining to find an allegorical coast of perpetuity that was just out of reach.

The sizable emerald formation at the heart of the drawing represents the land’s natural riches, while the obsidian dagger symbolizes the rituals and faiths of the thousands of tribes who inhabited the great continent.

Ara Hagopian’s latest book: http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

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Hidden House

Look at this old residence. There are stories that occurred within this home’s walls, but in the viewer’s world these stories don’t exist. We tend to pass by old homes because we don’t give much thought to the human history of the place. Maybe we think the people who lived here were just like everyone else. Or perhaps we don’t think of them at all.

If the families who lived in this dwelling behind the scraggly vines—this Hidden House—weren’t famous, or of blood relation to us, then why should we be interested in their past?

We could say it’s like owning a particular object—say, a stapler—but having no awareness of it. What if you’d inherited a small box of stuff and you’d stored it in your basement. Let’s say a stapler’s in that box. Since you don’t know of the stapler, or you once knew but had forgotten about it, the item is essentially a non-entity. It doesn’t matter that you happen to own the stapler, because in fact, you do own it. But if you needed papers bound together tonight, you’d have to buy or borrow one.

You don’t know of your basement stapler. It doesn’t exist in your world, and yet, it does exist.

Are you with me so far? Let’s take a look at Hidden House again.

The stories that originated at this address are the “unknown staplers” of a family’s life—the lives of many families. But so long as the historical anecdotes remain out of our sight, the goings-on do not exist to us, the stranger. Most likely, we can’t call upon the previous owners’ accounts or investigate their details. Until a person steps forward to talk to us, or a document is discovered that reveals the people who lived here, there is not much for an observer to hook onto.

So to us, when we look at Hidden House, there’s nothing. But yet, there was something.

The occupants’ activities are memory boxes of a sort, long thrown away. What’s important for the casual observer to grasp is the massive weight these boxes carried. After all, pre-and post-Victorian-era people lived here, so by default their lives were linear.

Vintage life tended to string activities together like beads. Often, one event had to come and go before another was managed.

This linear concept applied to nearly every household. Information and activity tended to flow in and out of homes in a simple, consecutive fashion. A person’s linearity was like an endless private tape measure, with accumulated rolls of activities instead of inches and feet hash marks. The spools of these tales were lost; how could they not be? Unless someone kept a detailed diary, there were no means to record or preserve the comings and goings of Hidden House. But we can believe that many interesting adventures took place in this home.

How do we know this? Why should we care? If history hasn’t noted anyone of merit in Hidden House, why should we be concerned with its generations? How can we be so sure interesting events took place here? Weren’t most people’s lives routine and unremarkable?

If we tend to slight the value of drama in commonplaces, it’s because we aren’t aware of the depth of content that’s present just about anywhere, given the nature of people and the course of time. So long as there were folks living and working their days and nights, there would be accounts we’d be interested to know.

We have a lack of interest because we don’t know what went on, not because what went on wasn’t interesting!

Their arcs would engage us. We’d see a twist of ourselves in them, or we’d marvel at a different social value system.

But—like the stapler—we don’t know we’re missing these stories. So we go out and buy others. We consume what’s packaged for us. We make our way to book stores or online, and pursue what’s neatly written and placed upfront, fiction and fact. There’s no fault or blame in our doing so.

Consider this. Someone starred in Hidden House. A good guess would be that there were many stars involved at this address. Maybe someone fell in love, or worked themselves to exhaustion on too many days. Perhaps someone gave up on a precious dream, or cashed out their savings, so that another person could enact a dream of their own. Someone was not free; others had too much freedom. One thing I’ve learned is that reality exceeds imagination. It’s hardly documented—no one’s kept their spools of routine—but the sheer weight of numbers backs this.

Another lesson I’ve learned: Entertainment is about storytelling. I think we’d find delightful interest in Hidden House’s personal accounts if the stories were told to us, just so. If we broke the linearity down to a contemporary meter, and edited-out the repetition of which we need not be bothered, then we’d have the basics of a good story.

A gift-bearing child walking to a friend’s house may carefully alter his route to avoid the local bullies—and then there’s a bully standing on the friend’s street corner.

Human drama need not be epic to be interesting.

When I look at this Charleston house, I see old wood siding and shutters, with layers of leaves that reveal advanced age. Who dreamed, and desired, and laughed here? Who cried? What was the source of their strife, and how close was their solution? Who built this home, who toiled in it, what were their ambitions, how did they view the world?

We don’t know what we’re missing, in Hidden House.

(Excerpt from CHARLESTON WANDERINGS photography exhibit.)

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Ara Hagopian’s latest book: http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

 

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Maybe

Today I want to talk about the poem on pet loss, titled “Maybe”. LEAVES OF YOUTH readers can find it on page 222.

I wrote “Maybe” in 2009, after a neighborhood cat got hit by a car. I’d been very friendly with this animal and her death affected me, even though I didn’t know her owners.

I’d see this domestic longhair when I’d take walks. Her name was Angel and she was the nicest being you could imagine. She would come running when she saw me, even though she was a shy girl. I have short movies of her doing this.

When I began writing a poem for Angel, the best ideas seemed to come from the first person point of view. It’s an odd way to write but the thoughts flowed best this way. So with this poem, the animal is talking to you.

The poem isn’t just for my situation. I wanted it to be for anyone who’d lost not just a pet, but someone dear. “Maybe” isn’t pet-specific. It can be from a person you’ve lost.

So let’s sit with “Maybe” for a moment. Poems often have voices and this voice is sure, loving and definite. It isn’t in pain, isn’t sad. She’s supreme. She knows you’re hurt, and she’s reaching out to you.

Everything she says is confident. She speaks of ways you and she can reunite. In fact, she tells you six different ways you could “again share a space”. Not in the way you had known, but in ways she knows. With all that she tells you, nothing is outerworldly, nothing is fantasy. As the “Maybe” poem relates, she is simply giving you a heads up to be aware of very real signs.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite lines. She’s telling you something; her love is reaching out to you.

“Maybe one day you’ll make a new friend

With no communication,

But an understanding

That someone you lost was nearby again.”

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The poem “Maybe” is from the book THE LEAVES OF YOUTH http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

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A Genuine Moment in Time

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my idea isn’t as much of a grabber as I think. Here it is: What if we discovered, today, a locked-in-amber moment that took place 84-years ago? A moment that was an exchange between two people, ordinary private citizens, and which was documented in a handwritten note? Does the idea interest you?

Let me sweeten the deal. What if I told you that this moment was kept from anyone’s eyes for decades. The documentation exists in the form of a letter written April 25, 1933, by a student on a rural Massachusetts college campus. His name was Compton, and he loved to write.

I am in possession of this letter.

Compton was 21-years old. His girlfriend, Gertrude, lived in Leeds MA. Comp and Gert (Comp shortened their names in his writings) dated in the early 1930’s. I own a stack of letters that he’d written and she’d saved until the day she died. I don’t have all the letters he’d written to her, and none she’d written back. Gert had saved over a dozen of Comp’s correspondence and I’m guessing that, in all her years, she shared them with no one. When she died in the early 1990’s, her belongings were sold and I bought the letters, right off her front lawn.

And just like that, a young man’s long forgotten thoughts were before my eyes.

He described a particular activity in a letter, which got me thinking. How often do we become privy to a vintage point-in-time moment, that’s not been pondered by anyone, probably since 1933? Does such an exposure happen often? Is such a discovery worthy of interest, or is it meaningless?

The event wasn’t earth-shattering. What Comp described was something that’s happened on every academic campus where students have had an opportunity to relax and talk. On one Tuesday afternoon, he sat outside with a male friend and they pondered life. Conceptually, the moment was very simple. What’s big is its discovery. It’s a bubble artifact, and it’s risen to us.

Here is the excerpt from Comp’s letter:

“After the class was over another fellow and I just laid down on a soft sunny slope and had a more-or-less heart to heart discussion of the problems of life. And what an afternoon to discuss any problems! Of course we did not reach any wonderful conclusions but perhaps we did get some good out of it.”

For a person of today–that’s us–to discover a bit of actual occurrence that’s been hidden within eighty-years is like our exposure to a long-lost fragrance. We are being let in on something that no one knows about. Two young men pondered life on a hill at Amherst College, in the Depression era. While we could have guessed this type of activity may have occurred in that time and place, we now know for sure such a moment happened. Its accounting has remained folded in an envelope, held tightly within other secrets.

We now know something that no one else has known. That is remarkable.

Comp’s discourse mattered enough to have taken place, mattered enough to have been recalled for Gert, and eventually, recognized by us for what it was. Comp’s meeting with his friend was a genuine moment in time. What we do with it, our response and savoring, tells us something about our era, as Comp gently tells us something about his.

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Ara Hagopian’s latest book is http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

 

 

Posted in History, non-fiction, Valuable scraps of paper | Leave a comment

Charleston Wanderings

The summer of 2017 is coming to an end and I’d like to share some new photographs and writing with you. This is my first exhibit for 2017 so thank you for taking a look.

Charleston Wanderings is a photography exhibit that came as a result of my third visit to South Carolina in successive years. My first exhibit, Charleston: 72 Hours, was a good start at showing some of the beauty of the area. The second show, Charleston, Revisited spliced free artistic yearnings with the heavier underpinnings of the city, examining what was going on today, as well as two centuries ago.

Both shows complemented each other. Now with Wanderings, the camera’s point of view has expanded. Not just by visiting new areas—after all, each of the three shows touch unique locales around Charleston—but by revealing more from the groundwork we’ve come to know.

Unlike other trilogies, you can enjoy Charleston Wanderings as your first look to this series. I hope it will implore you to discover more on your own.

Twenty-seven photographs comprise this collection. Let’s look at the photographs.

1. Two classics. A pelican and a palmetto tree.

2. The causeway at the Cooper River is a favorite place to sit, stroll, or jog. In the background, the Ravenel Bridge spans to Mount Pleasant—and to beautiful wildlife preservation sites.

The lack of people give the scene a chance to show its every inch. People are typically all over this path, so it’s rare to see it empty like this. I also love how the green sea grass happens to fill the fence openings with color, right down the line.

 

3. Sneak a look. My initial plans for photographing Charleston Wanderings was to shoot the entire exhibit with a magnifying tele-conversion lens screwed onto my 55mm prime lens. The effect combined a circular tunnel vision look with blurry edges, where only the center of the photograph was sharp. I wanted the new exhibit to have the distinctive, battered-but-beautiful look.

I shot with the tele-conversion for a day, and decided to switch to traditional photography for the balance of my week’s stay. This photograph is the single magnified shot that passed the exhibit’s selection process.

The subject is a vintage door from the inside of the Aiken-Rhett House, which is a well-preserved 1800’s home on Judith and Elizabeth Streets. The door and room furnishings are not only authentic, but have remained mostly unchanged for over 150 years. We could imagine we’re spying on the past.

4. Rabbit at entrance. Caught tending his greenery, this charming fellow sat and smiled for us. What a nice way to present a doorway to one’s home. This street arrangement is perfection, made a little artsy with IrfanView’s Filter Sandbox RadialBrighten, and Photoshop’s Poster filter. The rabbit sculpture is beautifully cast, and is unpainted. We have his attention, and he has ours. If you’re ever in need of a smile, look no further than this photograph.

5. Metal sign. On a walk down a tucked-away alley, cicadas buzzed louder than a passing helicopter. We don’t mind the noise because it’s natural and reminds us it’s summer, and very hot. The cicadas are hidden in greenery that seems to comfort a carefully metalworked sign, displaying the familiar South Carolina marker. Ivy and brick ground this placard, which with the rusted surface, makes for a very homey appeal. This sign had been carefully cut by a craftsman who understood the concept of negative space. This is not the first time we’ve seen the state’s palmetto as a hand-cut greeting to the passing visitor (refer to 2015’s CHARLESTON, REVISITED exhibit). There is something special about showing regional pride. It’s great to love where one is from.

6. Dragonfly on car antenna. This dragonfly was not fooled for long; she jumped off the black plastic rod within seconds, looking for a natural perch to enrich her life. I got one shot.

I enjoy this photograph because it can’t be easily re-created. Many photographs in this show can be duplicated by going to these streets and matching the view. For the extra-special shots, which typically feature living things, duplication is nearly impossible. I appreciate the dragonfly photograph for what it is at face value, but also, I love it for the luck to be on hand to share it.

7. Hidden House. There are stories that occurred within this home’s walls, but in the viewer’s world these stories don’t exist. We tend to pass by old homes because we don’t give much thought to the human history of the place. Maybe we think the people who lived there were just like everyone else.

Or perhaps we don’t think of them at all.

If the residents who lived in this dwelling behind the scraggly tree—this Hidden House—weren’t particularly famous, or of blood relation to us, then why should we be interested in their past?

We could say it’s like owning a particular object—say, a stapler—but having no awareness of it. What if you’d inherited a small box of stuff and you’d stored it in your basement. Let’s say a stapler’s in that box. Since you don’t know of the stapler, or you once knew but had forgotten about it, the item is essentially a non-entity. It doesn’t matter that you happen to own the stapler, because in fact, you do own it. But if you needed papers bound together tonight, you’d have to buy or borrow one.

You don’t know of your basement stapler. It doesn’t exist in your world, and yet, it does exist.

Are you with me so far? Let’s take a look at Hidden House again.

The stories that originated at this address are the “unknown staplers” of a family’s life—the lives of many families. But so long as the historical anecdotes remain out of our sight, the goings-on do not exist to us, the stranger. Most likely, we can’t call upon the previous owners’ accounts or investigate their details. Until a person steps forward to talk to us, or a document is discovered that reveals the people who lived here, there is not much for an observer to hook onto.

So to us, when we look at Hidden House, there’s nothing. But yet, there was something.

The occupants’ activities are memory boxes of a sort, long thrown away. What’s important for the casual observer to grasp is the massive weight these boxes carried. After all, pre-and post-Victorian-era people lived here, so by default their lives were linear.

Vintage life tended to string activities together like beads. Often, one event had to come and go before another was managed.

This linear concept applied to nearly every household. Information and activity tended to flow in and out of homes in a simple, consecutive fashion. A person’s linearity was like an endless private tape measure, with accumulated rolls of activities instead of inches and feet hash marks. The spools of these tales were lost; how could they not be? Unless someone kept a detailed diary, there were no means to record or preserve the comings and goings of Hidden House. But we can believe that many interesting adventures took place in this home.

How do we know this? Why should we care? If history hasn’t noted anyone of merit in Hidden House, why should we be concerned with its generations? How can we be so sure interesting events took place here? Weren’t most people’s lives routine and unremarkable?

If we tend to slight the value of drama in commonplaces, it’s because we aren’t aware of the depth of content that’s present just about anywhere, given the nature of people and the course of time. So long as there were folks living and working their days and nights, there would be accounts we’d be interested to know.

We have a lack of interest because we don’t know what went on, not because what went on wasn’t interesting!

Their arcs would engage us. We’d see a twist of ourselves in them, or we’d marvel at a different social value system.

But—like the stapler—we don’t know we’re missing these stories. So we go out and buy others. We consume what’s packaged for us. We make our way to book stores or online, and pursue what’s neatly written and placed upfront, fiction and fact. There’s no fault or blame in our doing so.

Consider this. Someone starred in Hidden House. A good guess would be that there were many stars involved at this address. Maybe someone fell in love, or worked themselves to exhaustion on too many days. Perhaps someone gave up on a precious dream, or cashed out their savings, so that another person could enact a dream of their own. Someone was not free; others had too much freedom. One thing I’ve learned is that reality exceeds imagination. It’s hardly documented—no one’s kept their spools of routine—but the sheer weight of numbers backs this.

Another lesson I’ve learned: Entertainment is about storytelling. I think we’d find delightful interest in Hidden House’s personal accounts if the stories were told to us, just so. If we broke the linearity down to a contemporary meter, and edited-out the repetition of which we need not be bothered, then we’d have the basics of a good story.

A gift-bearing child walking to a friend’s house may carefully alter his route to avoid the local bullies—and then there’s a bully standing on the friend’s street corner.

Human drama need not be epic to be interesting.

When I look at this Charleston house, I see old wood siding and shutters, with layers of paint that reveal advanced age. Who dreamed, and desired, and laughed here? Who cried? What was the source of their strife, and how close was their solution? Who built this home, who toiled in it, what were their ambitions, how did they view the world?

We don’t know what we’re missing, in Hidden House.

8. Cobblestone street. Large cobblestones were brought to South Carolina as ballast by merchant ships. When the ships were docked in Charleston and loaded with goods, the stones were no longer needed. Most were likely discarded in the Cooper River, while the stones seen in this photograph were offloaded and used to surface the streets near the docks. Eight such streets survive today.

9. Hideaway. This plant has found a cozy place to live. Chances are she’ll only last a short while; this location isn’t a garden or permanent place to grow. But she was here, and I was there.

Photography captures an experience and shares it with you. Photography lets you ponder where otherwise you’d simply walk by without a glance. Photography packages a scene and presents it to you in your comfy place. Photography is simultaneously a spotlight and a seat, for the subject and for you.

10. Vintage gutter. I will not lecture the city wanderer who does not give this very old spout a good look. I will not admonish the current landlord on how his layers of sloppy paint have obscured an artisan’s fine relief. I’m a guilty wanderer myself, having not taken the opportunity to study or touch this wondrous piece of old, when I was on location.

11. Cicada on tree. The cicada is like heat bug of sorts; we hear its body vibrate when the day is hot. Charleston cicadas ratchet their noise in quarters; buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz. The sound grows louder, with a slightly higher pitch, for each quarter.

12. Tree drops. The prettiest litter.

13. Hidden House. A 1930’s family struggles with their choices when a penpal’s daily letters unexpectedly stop.

14. In the midst. You’ll never be closer to water and light.

15. Life’s end. This horseshoe crab died and was found on the sand when the Sullivan’s Beach tide went low. I was the first to come across this creature. As a child, one of my first memories of living creatures were the horseshoe crabs of Gloucester, MA. I’d see them when I’d wade in deeper water; see them when I’d explore the miles of straw wastelands where the animals would live. I’ve seen tiny horseshoe crabs that were lighter than my skin color and fit on my pinky; and larger ones, bigger than a basketball and scary with their speed. Mostly, my memory of this ancient animal is that they minded their business. Despite my fear of them, they never wanted more than to eat what they traveled over, in their protective shell.

16. Stick in the wild. Near Station 18 at Sullivan’s Island, there is a lighthouse that seemingly rises from the sand dunes to warn the ships of the shore. I wanted to capture this structure because its sight from the beach was impressive. I took several sharp pictures, but photography isn’t about documenting, not for me.

On a day of fresh exploration, and having given up my idea to capture the lighthouse for you, I instead focused on the proximal wild grass. I enjoyed the sun’s interplay with the tips of the tan strands, and as I composed in the camera’s frame, I became aware of a new character. The lighthouse loomed not too far out of sight and as I applied a bit of effort to turn and recompose, I found the money shot. Man and nature, thick and thin, solid and fragile, here and there. The Photography 101 parallels go on, including, indeed, our subjects being in parallel.

17 – 25. Bird life. In my previous exhibits, I’d never presented bird photographs because I hadn’t captured anything close to what I saw. I don’t own a birder’s lens, and there are other requirements as well, including the consideration of viewer expectation. People are used to great bird photography, and if I didn’t have the goods I didn’t want to present subjects just to cover them.

With Charleston Wanderings, at last I had a good batch of pictures that satisfied my requirement of clarity and composition. I selected photographs that could at least be in the ballpark with birder’s books.

You be the judge. The birds you see here are the ones I saw there. We’re in the mud and we’re in the trees.

The photograph of the baby Clapper Rails crossing at the Pitt Street Causeway is a favorite. The scene happened in a quick moment and didn’t repeat itself. The image was used for the exhibit’s cover illustration.

26. Cooper River fisheye.

27. Moon over the Cooper River. Want to sit and dream with me?

Ara Hagopian’s newest book is out now. http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

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Posted in 72 Hours, Charleston, Photography | 2 Comments

Lady’s Night on the Town

Young people love New York City. They love the grand size, the shopping opportunities, and the legacy of glitz and stardom. This isn’t just where William Irish wrote Deadline at Dawn; this is where that novel took place, in six exciting hours.

This city attracts the young because for a few precious days, they too are stars. With their hometown problems left behind, they photograph themselves giggling at Rockefeller Center, with a soft-serve ice cream in hand. There’s a lot of money to be spent today, because a city vacation entails temporarily living completely outside of one’s means.

From Aspinwall and Burr Oak, wide-eyed families visit New York. Their cares consist of fresh battery charges, and an ambitious itinerary. They don’t live or work here. They’ve not seen it all before. To this writer—who remembers the fresh experience—it’s exciting to watch the young newbies in the big city. They are like a ladybug, getting lost to the action of a wild bouquet. Excerpt from the book WHAT HAPPENED TO VICKY LEE? A COLLECTION OF STORIES (2013) http://www.VickyLeeTheBook.com

Lady’s Night on the Town (2010)

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The Way Home

The Way Home illustrates the story of a woman who’s chosen to leave a routine life to pursue her dreams in a faraway city. She’s decided to break from established family ways in order to venture out on her own.

Her family and friends, represented as ten diamond-shaped stationkeepers in alternating purple and blue, remain in their secure and familiar surroundings.

For her adventure to unfold, our protagonist has aligned herself at a markedly different angle than her peers. She has to think differently, act independently, and not without heartache for those left behind. Her re-alignment reveals a long but illuminated trail that leads to a new way. Her friends never see this wondrous cross-cut path of unique colors; their view is a green pattern that suggests fields of timelessness.

Our heroine’s future lies behind the proverbial golden door to the city.

The lengthy horizon evokes the line of a woman sleeping on her side: Head at left, hip in the middle, and leg to the right. She has found her way home.

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Ara Hagopian’s latest book is available now: http://www.LeavesOfYouth.com

The Way Home (2009)

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