One At A Time

For those of you who follow me on social media, you might recall that I have been talking about working on a Punk Rock series. That is still very much in the works. It is quite a different undertaking than my Lord Franklin series (yes, I’m promoting that again, because I’m proud of it!) Truth be told for the punk series there is so much music, art, books, and fashion to go through that I have gotten bogged down with making a cohesive series out of it. Rest assured it is still on the way.

Additionally, those of you who follow me might remember that awhile back I purchased a vintage camera bag at a thrift store. Inside it was an assortment of old camera lenses, assorted gear, and most incredibly, a good condition Olympus OM 10 film camera. Beyond inserting fresh batteries I have not experimented with it to see if it still takes photographs, but in examining the solid workings of the camera I am pretty sure that it probably does just like it did when first introduced to the market 40 years ago.

As I admired the look and tactile feel of the camera construction since the day I purchased the literal ‘bag of goodies’ I had some thoughts about how that solid  feel to the camera reminded me of some of the changes to how music is made these days. In terms of the camera the most telling example is the fact that it has a manual winding lever, which 40 years since its release seems about as archaic as the very first daguerreotype cameras first introduced in 1839. Imagine…there you are on vacation with the family assembled in front of..oh lets say the Grand Canyon. Everyone get together now, smile! The photographer would have to focus, frame, adjust, then snap the photo from a long thin shutter release button (nothing like the low profile buttons of today). Ok fine, but what if you wanted to take another photo of the family? The just to be sure photo as most call it. Well you would have to slide the manual advance lever approximately 180 degrees until an audible click was heard before you could take that next photo.

And as I sat gripping the Olympus camera, I thought how different that simple film advance action was to people 40 years ago.  How antiquated it seems now and how wonderful it is to have digital cameras and smartphones by comparison.  As so often happens to me, my mind shifts gears rapidly towards music. In some ways I think there is almost a little too much music now. Or maybe I should say too much mediocre music made designed to solely move bodies around and shift sales units. But when the radio stops playing the songs there is often little lasting memory of the song once it has been deemed to be ‘overplayed’. We move on and don’t look back until we hear it on the radio or streaming after a year or two away and proclaim it to be a ‘classic’.

All of which is fair enough. But believe it or not, there is still music being recorded, released and promoted in the more old school way. Like the film advance on that OM 10 camera, the albums are recorded ‘one at a time’. One song first. One well crafted song stripped down of anything extraneous, focused instead on the lyrics and natural emotion of the song. Well worked in the studio-edited, with different instrumentation experiments, different tempos, different vocal approaches. When that song is completed, work begins on the next song. One at a time until maybe 20 songs are recorded for an album. Of those 20, maybe 10-12 will be chosen for the album itself.

With photography now, the ‘trash’ button is used readily. Someone not smiling? Delete, take it over. Not so easy back in the days of the Olympus OM 10 or other similar cameras. That photo was on the film roll, whether you wanted it to be developed or not. So what the serious photographers had to learn was patience and skill at not wasting chances. Load up the film. Compose, focus, structure, frame, set aperture, set shutter speed. Then and only then is when the shutter gets released and composition takes place.

So to with music now when someone comes along that reminds you of the way music was produced in the studio-one song at a time. Awhile back I began hearing a lot of buzz around a new artist called J.S. Ondara. Originally from Kenya, he became interested in the sounds of singer songwriters such as Bob Dylan. Eventually he moved to Minnesota to hone his craft, much like those photographers skilled in the capabilities of their cameras. To J.S. Ondara, the words are his camera. The skills and lyricism translated to  his own original songs that are powerful in their words, and the words by turn powerful in their singing. The album-Tales Of America abounds with poetical lyrics all written by Ondara himself.

There is a mystery to some of the words that begs repeated listening. A realization that songs and delivery such as he gives are destined not for karaoke machines of the future, but for something more real, more telling, and more revealing. They will become part of the rich tapestry of language that lies at the heart of the best popular music. And it happens when the songs are approached the same way a good photo is taken-one at a time. Never too much at once. Never too flashy or driven by outside forces. Just a singular moment. A photographer out in the wild, utilizing skills of composition honed by years of dedication. Or a songwriter in the studio, utilizing different yet similar skills of composition and performance honed by years of dedication. One at a time.

Saying Goodbye-Written By J.S. Ondara

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Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

Go To The Woods

Wood-noun. plural noun: woods

an area of land, smaller than a forest, that is covered with growing trees.

Scene 6- The mist creeps in over the woods as the camera zooms in on a group of tents. Nearby figures are gathered around a campfire. A sound not too far off in the distance startles the assembled group. “What was that?” asks one of the group.  “Ah probably just an animal” says another. The camera zooms out rapidly to a lone figure seen from behind observing the campers nearby in silence. The music becomes ominous as the figure starts walking towards the campfire…Cut scene.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Having spent much of February locked away working on the Lord Franklin series I decided I wanted to go in a vastly different direction for a new post. For starters, writing about the frozen Arctic in the actual winter here in the Northeast was maybe an odd move on my part.  Nevertheless, I was so happy with the results of this collection that you will see it now immortalized at the top of this page as a menu choice in case you missed it the first time around.

I decided on a theme of the woods and forest as a change of pace for a few reasons. First, I have long wanted to feature the handful of photographs I have taken in the woods over the years. It isn’t a normal subject matter for me to be honest. Typically I feel more connected to the water. Second there is something by equal turns fascinating, mysterious and ominous about the woods. I’m sure everyone has seen a horror movie with a scene in the woods such as the fictional one I created above. Third, it is of course spring now, and the trees and flowers are bursting out in full force with each passing day conjuring up the poetical language employed by writers such as Thoreau.

One thing I find fascinating is the ability of the woods and forest to regenerate. From earthworms churning the ground underneath to birds flitting about or the tiniest sapling sprouting from the ground that may one day turn into a mighty tree, the forest is all about regeneration and renewal year after year. Amazingly after fires and natural catastrophes, recovery often starts at a microscopic level yet gradually takes hold and flourishes. Renewal is a big word for me right now as a result of the broader themes I wrote about in the Lord Franklin series and its short followup piece. But lets leave my own story there and consider some of the other thoughts and images of the woods brought up through the lyrics of the wonderful Dar Williams song ‘Go To The Woods’ instead.

‘It’s the woods! What do you see?
In all the spooky shadows, in the forest of green
Is there a windy path, angry ass woman who will eat you?
Sad-eyed lumberjack, savior who will greet you?
It’s a different story for you and for me
Go to the woods and see’

I have been familiar with the songs of Dar Williams for some time now, but just after Christmas I went with some friends to see her perform in Brooklyn. As a result I have been exploring her work more directly. When I came across this one, I knew I had my song for this post. Like other great songwriters, Dar conveys the broad themes of the woods within just a couple of lines. She skillfully weaves the narrative of spookiness, fear, mystery and desire of the woods within just a handful of lines. Even more effectively she goes backwards and forwards in time, reminding us of the very real fragility of our increasingly disappearing woods.

‘If I was your memory, what would you do?

‘Cause you know if you go back in time there’s something waiting for you.’

Listening to the song I started thinking back to some of my own memories of the woods. Call it the ‘storybook’ version of the woods Dar Williams describes.  In my suburban childhood, there was a small patch of woods we used to go to. There was a rope swing someone had put on a sturdy branch which made you feel as if you were hurtling off a cliff. There was not much else there to be honest, but in my child’s eye the area was a vast wilderness even though in reality it was just an overgrown area yet to be developed.  Also in the larger surrounding area were a variety of trails we often hiked on. The sounds of the highway may have punctuated the feeling of stillness, but to walk on those trails always felt like an epic journey even if it only lasted a few hours. Eventually I finally witnessed what truly large woods looked like when in the summer of 1979 my family drove across the U.S. and I saw places that really did have woods like the Black Hills, Yellowstone, and the Redwoods.

As I got older my interactions with the woods were resigned mostly to hiking and camping in various places in the northeast. At first photography was not part of the equation, but gradually it took hold and allowed me to experience the woods in different ways. The deeper my interest in photography, the more understanding I  feel and think towards a subject matter. Cliche though it may sound, you really have to become one with the scene in front of you and being in tune with your surroundings. Photography is visual, but by listening to the sounds around you or feeling the breeze on your skin it can benefit the end result.

What being in the woods specifically taught me as a photographer is that there is an interplay of light and shadows throughout the day. There are the sounds of unseen birds in the trees or acorns suddenly plummeting to the ground.  There is both motion and stillness.  Each season of the year accelerates or slows down the process and adds to the sensory experience. As I sit here writing this piece I suddenly realized there is something magical or fairy tale like about setting off into the woods. There seems to be an imaginary line of demarcation between life inside and outside of the woods. We use phrases such as ‘out of the woods’ to imply foreboding. But if you dare cross that line a world of  wonder, mystery and discovery await. If you avoid it altogether you are missing out on potential treasures contained within, be you adventurer, botanist, photographer or even songwriter.

Writing this piece has reminded me that perhaps I do have a deeper connection to the woods than when I started. Though I may consider being near the water to be where my  heart lies, the woods have provided me with a lot of good memories over the years too. Perhaps I need to ‘go to the woods’ to witness the renewal and mystery of the woods for myself again.

Go To The Woods-Written By Dar Williams

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Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

When I Write…

In the middle of writing the Lord Franklin series I could tell it was really consuming me. It had adventure, mystery, intrigue, survival, defeat, loss and death. Not that I was dwelling on all of those elements personally. Instead I was trying to navigate between the historical narrative, the songs I wanted to include in the piece as well as the photographs I wanted to use that best related to the frozen north. For the first time in a long time, I was really obsessed with something. Though everyday life and work intervened, it was a story I needed to complete.

When that type of obsession happens I find seemingly minor details can pop into your head at any time. It happens when you are passionate about the subject matter I suppose. Insert this paragraph here, quote a passage from this book there, that sort of thing. Not being under professional deadlines it can be exhilarating and exciting when you see a vision for a piece coming together. Sometimes you even dream about that vision as it turns out.

About halfway through the writing of the series I woke up at 2 A.M. on a weeknight with a thought. Just a sudden realization that came to me in that fuzzy world between deep sleep and awareness. For the past few months I have been leaving my  notebook (a marvelous little one I picked up with the softest paper imaginable, eco-friendly and fair trade made from leaves of  the Lokta plant in Nepal for the record!) on my little bookshelf/nightstand. When I came to that awareness of an idea,  turned on the light and grabbed my pen these are the words I wrote which are only slightly edited for clarity. It was 2 A.M. after all!  I am sharing them because in perusing the notebook the other day I realized that it really says a lot about me and ‘where I am’.

‘When I read I want to ‘see’ what I am reading about. When I ‘see’ I want to ‘hear’ the sounds of what I am seeing. When I am ‘hearing’ what I am ‘seeing’ I want to understand why that is so important to me. I yearn to express myself in this way. To make these connections between a long ago sunken ship together with a contemporary song and a photograph of my own that ties the two elements together. It is my way of combining the things I am passionate about. The things I have always been passionate about if I really think about it.’ 

When I re-read it the next morning it actually did not come across as profound and brilliant to my mind as it was when I wrote it. But on further reflection, it is inherently and uniquely me, especially the last two sentences. That is a very important realization in my life right now. As I related in the series, I have been seeing a therapist and my head is a bit of a jumble at present. Backwards and forwards in time reliving memories. But these recollections also jog my memory further and make me think how this-all of this idea I have laid my claim to and set my flag on have always been there for me.

I realized it is absolutely the way I engage subjects I am passionate about. It has always been important for me to visualize a story, be it a song or a book. So I need to see the Arctic, an English country lane, a pagoda in China, a baobab tree in Africa, a ship on the high seas or a steam train chugging its way through the Canadian Rockies in my mind. I think the photography came about because I needed to catalog my favorite elements to the stories for myself.

It also explains why music is so deeply embedded in me. Why I feel music so much. Sometimes it can go beyond actual music and be sounds such as birdsong, wind rustling through the grass, or waves crashing on shore. Digging deeper through my life and what that 2 in the morning thought was about I realized it was the idea that sound itself is an even deeper connection for me than I ever realized.

Combined together, the ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ explains a great deal. It is my visualization, my way of understanding, my prism. A way of interpreting my passions easily. If I expand the idea it is precisely why from the start I tended to take photos of favorite things-bridges, ships, trees, etc. They were always my fascination from an early age. So it is years later that when I am reading a book I need to make the same sort of connection. To tie all the elements together if only just for my personal benefit.

In therapy I am connecting the dots of my life up to now. Seemingly innocuous and never forgotten memories from childhood have significance because they correspond to my life right now somehow.   When I started writing this blog I can see now that like with the connections I am making in therapy, the dots between the present and past definitely become connected eventually. These ideas I bring out have always been there. I just needed to find the clarity and space to locate and elucidate it all.

That is where I feel I am right now at this exact moment. I initially thought what I wrote early that morning would work its way into the series, but I realized it was instead a realization of something that has been laying dormant for most of my life. Now it has been firmly unleashed and I can say that like the connections made in therapy that rocked my very core, I can truly say that I have a deeper understanding of why I need to have this space and present my photography in a deep and personal way. And to quote from this song by the great songsmith Chris Trapper- ‘I’m happy where I am.’

Happy Where I Am-Written By Chris Trapper

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Storms

 

Storms-New York City

One thing I have noticed about my photography, or photography in general is that it sometimes grabs you in different ways at different times. Even as the taker of the photograph that happens to me. Case in point is this photograph shown above. I took it a few weeks ago on a rather warm Saturday evening. I decided I was a little restless and decided to head out for a long walk and a few drinks and dinner at the end of it. When I left our apartment, it was bright and sunny out. The Kwanzan Cherry trees were just starting to bloom and as they are my favorite of the flowering cherries, I found a cluster of them and took some photos along the way.

Not long after however, I noticed that the sky was looking a little ominous. Not quite ready to pour down, but you could tell it was coming at some point. Which is ironic since instead of high-tailing it to the nearest drinking and eating establishment, I instead went down to Long Island City here in Queens, out to a particular pier that has some stunning Manhattan views. I wanted to go because it is slightly north of the usual perspective I take this view from. Photography is all about subtle changes after all. I walked down a long empty street to the end. Continue reading “Storms”

In The Garden

In The Garden

Well after a few weeks off I am ready to dive back into some new music related posts for all of you. During my little break I thought about the origins of this space, about what made me want to combine my own photographs with music in the first place. I was also thinking about how in some ways I slipped away from ‘owning’ this idea of mine recently.  I can now see  how ideas evolve and grow over passage of time. As my photography continues to evolve, so too does my writing.  The things I write today are quite different from what I wrote over four years ago at the start. Sometimes though things can unintentionally go off course. I realized during my break that I had always intended this place to be so much more than just writing about a song. I wanted it to be a creative space, linking words, music, and imagery all together as one. Finding connections between them all. In this coming year I plan to get back to that and I have some ideas for making this happen.

Another thing I realized is that sometimes I hear a new song and know exactly what I want to do with it.  More often than not however, I might know a song for years but do not feel like I have the right photo that pairs up with it in a satisfactory way…because I have not actually taken it yet. Once I find the right one though it reminds me of why I started writing in the first place. Why I wanted to ‘create’.  I can listen to a song and nod my head in agreement with the story or sentiments of the song. I can look at a photo and remember the moment I took it.  When I first started this all off I chose a song by Ralph McTell for my first post.  As I recall the origins of this blog I thought a return to his music might be a good idea. And an idea formed  when I looked back on some photos I took of a butterfly last summer. Continue reading “In The Garden”