Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.

Cuba Photo Essay a Motivational Journey

To begin 2017 my blog will deal with my motivations to photograph people & culture in Cuba. I will post weekly with text instead of twice a month with pictures. My inspiration has evolved & taken some unexpected twists. If you know somebody that might enjoy a creative exploration…please share my blog.

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To begin 2017 my blog will deal with motivations to photograph people & culture in Cuba. I will post weekly with text instead of twice a month with pictures. My inspiration has evolved & taken some unexpected twists. If you know somebody that might enjoy a creative exploration…please share my blog.

All stories have a beginning, middle & an end. This post begins in the middle.

I sit here on 11/26 starting my journal. I’ve been planning for 9 months & departure is 2 months away. A strange time to begin but I awoke to learn Fidel Castro died. I don’t understand why this sparked me to begin. But inspiration doesn’t have an on/off switch.

The seeds of a Cuban Photo Essay began 2 years ago when President Obama restored diplomatic relations. The most logical comment I heard was ”What we had been doing for 50 years wasn’t working. Why not try something different.” I found it intriguing that Pope Francis, originally from Argentina, played a role in easing tensions that existed for most of my life. I also found it reassuring Canada was involved.

My understanding of US Cuba relations was thin even though I enjoy reading about history. Born in 1955 I have zero recollection of the revolution. My knowledge of the Bay of Pigs is because of a memorable name. The missile crisis happened when I was 7 & resulted in air raid drills in elementary school. Years after the assignation of Kennedy I couldn’t make connections to theories of Oswald’s visit the Cuban embassy in Mexico.

As a teenager, the swirl of events around Vietnam, Civil Rights, the riots of 1968, the Generation Gap & assignations of MLK & Bobby Kennedy occupied my developing worldview. These events impacted my life more than anything on a Caribbean island. In youthful ignorance, the iconic image of guerilla fighter Che Guevara was without context of what he represented to older radical baby boomers.

When the TV Docudrama Missiles of October aired & I began to understand the events that took us close to nuclear war. My link between the USSR & Cuba fell into the muddy category of communist & satellite. Very Cold Warish. That program also reinforced my perception of the power of the medium of TV.

My 4 years at Kent State focused on finding a path to my degree & a job. I had exposure to new people & ideas while having a good time. However, connections to history & international events rarely came to mind.

As I began my career in TV production, the host of a show told of trips to Havana when she was younger. “It only cost a quarter each way on a banana boat. We would go there for the weekend & have a great time!”

Around then I went on my 1st Caribbean vacation. Flying to Grand Cayman, I saw a landmass that surprised me. The plane wasn’t a US carrier so it was OK for me to be over  Cuba. OK but strange. I had ignored that Cuba was in route. It was like it didn’t exist.

Santiago in Hemmingway’s Old Man & the Sea was just that…a wonderful old man his boat, the sea & the fish. I humanized him as a man but de-cultured his heritage.

Over the next 2 decades marriage, family & career dominated my life. The topics of my reading were mostly about US & European history. In books I read, little was ever mentioned about Cuba or Latin America. Vacations to the Caribbean were focused on sailing & beaches.

Occasionally events in the news briefly caught my attention.

The Mariel boat-lift resonated as a strange event. Criminals & patients from mental health facilities were exported. The tragedy of Elian Gonzalez evolved as an story more twisted than Shakespeare could write. The conclusion ended with in an iconic image of a federal agent taking a 7 year old child at gunpoint. That image resonates in my mind alongside the May 4th 1970 picture from Kent State of the girl screaming over the body of Jeffrey Miller.

I was further confused about Cuba when Guantanamo Bay became a story-line in the news. Why do we have a military base in a country we have no diplomatic relationships with? HUH!

Living over 1000 miles from Miami with no connections to the people of or expatriates from Cuba, numerous stories of escapes to the US didn’t resonate very deep. I felt empathy about the separation of families. However, I had no perspective of the depth of emotions Cubans in both countries lived with.

Recognizing my ignorance I am motivated to better understand Cuba, its history & the people. Immersing myself in their culture even for a brief period of time I hope to get a better perspective of their lives. I also will attempt to merge the format of Studs Terkel every man interviews with Humans of New York. I will document moments of people’s lives, interview them & write short essays to share on my blog. I want to push my photography & develop a more coherent writing process. I want to be a good neighbor representing the people, of the United States. I am, after all, from Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.