Nocturne / Correspondence XII, Newport, Rhode Island, 1999

While studying painting in college, I was given the assignment of painting night. After dark, I took my paint and canvas out into the night – and couldn’t see either. So I found a portable light source, which made them so bright that I couldn’t see beyond them. Next, I used a camera to make photographs to paint from and colors became distorted and moving objects blurred or disappeared altogether. I ultimately ended up painting from memory, drawing on all of my accumulated memories from these attempts to make the final images.

Much later, working with digital imagery, I returned to this challenge. Wanting to avoid the distortions I had encountered before I took a clue from Hollywood, shooting by day and color adjusting those images to look like night. Realizing that the hard multi-colored points of light rendered by the camera eye did not look like what I saw with my naked I, I began digitally drawing stars as I saw them.

I found other people’s reactions to these images fascinating. Knowing that long exposures were necessary to make photographs in low light, photographers would ask me, “How did you get these exposures?” Familiar with the relative relationship of specific stars in the sky, astronomers would ask me, “Where did you find these constellations?”  What each viewer knew changed the way they saw, the questions they asked, and their final reaction.

In order to see more, to see more deeply, and to see in more ways, I find myself constantly challenging what I think I know and striving to learn more in as many ways as I can think of.

How many ways does what you know help you make stronger images?

How many ways does what you know get in the way of your making stronger images?

How many ways can you increase the positive and reduce the negative impacts of what you know on your image making?


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“They say we can’t see color at night. By comparison to day, I suppose that’s true. However, if there’s a significant amount of light, there are wonderful colors to be found at night.”

I wrote this many years ago. Since then I’ve come across recent scientific research that overturns the notion that we don’t see color at night. While our sensitivity to hue in low levels of light does diminish, we very definitely see it. We see color at night, even in the darkest hours.

Time and time again, throughout the history of art, I’ve seen examples of people calling it like they see it and expressing an underlying truth that science has yet to catch up with. My advice? Look closely. Trust your direct perception over the way you’ve been taught to see or think about seeing. Hold the questions of how it all works answered but open. With an open mind we learn more every day, There’s always more to learn.

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