A Second Succession

Since I was a child I was enamored with antique keys, skeleton keys, old house keys.  I’ve seen projects and thoughts, ideas, and inspirations from childhood weave their way into the reliquarian from so many directions.  I believe there are certain interests and predispositions we have, that manifest in us in our childhood.  As this journey has continued I am unsure if everything about my life and creative visions has been bringing me to this point, or if it is the sum of my experiences and endeavors.  Years of exploration of artistry, and self, seeping into the culmination of all my talent, experience, and expression.  Artists are infamous for being tortured souls, and in many ways I suppose that is what makes the art… we use it to connect, through joy and suffering, but the source is the same… Love.  The Reliquarian has so many subtle messages and mantras, but like roots traveling back to the tree, the heart of it is that all things come from the source of love… the shadow and the light.  We like to ignore that part; the shadow.  We’re only hurt by what we care for… if we don’t care we don’t hurt.  We suffer loss, and heartache, frustration, loneliness, and fear… things I’ve known intimately from a very young age.  I got lost in the shadow for a lot of my childhood and young adult years, and I forgot shadows are cast by obstacles that stand between you and the light.  Nothing more… Shadows do not denote the absence of light, but the presence of it.  That was a really hard lesson for me, and one that I rejected, because like most people, holding to our obstacles, our shadows in the path, excuses of from having to make the effort.  From showing up.  From taking ownership of our journey.

Patience is a virtue… one that I am still mastering, and it does not come naturally to me.  I’m learning both more and less of it with age.  Some things just take time… as I age I learn to wait.  Not for the answers, not for the right moment, but for the emotions to pass.  {Artists are notorious for being emotional as well.}  Once, Michael told me “People don’t love like you do, you feel things deeper than others}  I, to this day don’t know if it was a criticism or a compliment.  He also teases that others sing praises for my devotion to the cause {whatever cause it may be} but they confuse persistence with stubbornness.  That too was a moment of realization for me:  Everything is two sides of the same coin.

Every trait and quality has both the potential for good and for bad.  It is both an ally and a foe, situationally influenced.  My emotional side, my passion in particular is both the best and the worst thing about me.  It has helped me create my greatest art pieces, it has seen me through and given me courage to continue walking when my strength failed me.  I have loved fiercely, and overcome things that would break most people, through sheer will power at times… but it has caused a lot of heartache, a lot of suffocation within my own emotions, a lot of wallowing, and tethering myself to the past, which has pulled me from the present.

If I glance behind me now, I find gratitude for my struggles and hardships in youth.  It has taught me to know the value of a good person, to not take for granted the love and support of a good person, to be a good person.  To teach my children to be good, and kind to others, especially when they are hurting and struggling, which is when we often are least lovable.

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My daughter sees my husband write little hearts on paper towels, and feed me when I’m immersed in a project, and she mimics by leaving me pretzel sticks and coffee on my writing desk in the morning.  Even my students and apprentices send thoughtful gifts to encourage creativity and writing, and I hope what I give them is of equal value.  My little boy learns how to be a man by watching his father, and I have no concern that he will learn to be a good one by following in those footsteps.  After the Butterfly Book shoot, I can’t see butterflies without feeling dad’s presence, so when this little black and blue butterfly landed on me, that too was perceived as a gift of love.  Love is the source.

I myself am more a bumble bee than a butterfly.  If you don’t know me {and even if you do} a lot of time, what seems like disoriented chaotic flitting to and fro is really an obsessive love for all projects, I can’t choose between the flowers.  I have always appreciated dichotomy.  Even the sound of the word appeals to my writer, but also comes into play in much of my artistry.  Lacey dresses against rough backgrounds, humanity within nature.  I appreciate duality, visually and in life.  Warm apple pie, and ice cream, salty and sweet.  The allure of the nostalgic in the present.  I think a lot of who I am exists in duality and dichotomy as well. My mind operates in a very entrepreneurial state of project starting, and loves the artistry and passionate emotion of being a photographer, painter, sculptor.  I am both the visual artist, and the writer.  The lover, and the independent wanderlust afflicted spirit.  Siena once said to me that I arrange everything in my life like little still-lifes to be painted, and I don’t know if I do this because I see in pictures, or if I see in pictures because I do this.

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I was feeling incredibly down about the lack of progress with the Reliquarian.  If you’ve been following since the beginning, or have wandered back through past posts then you know this has been literally years of work… and to only have 12 images complete at this point is incredibly disheartening for a girl who is still learning the virtue of patience.

Being the emotional person I am, I tend to make decisions from a place of heart, so when I received the call that Kellie McGinn had passed away unexpectedly, leaving her parents with a studio business to deal with that they were now responsible for legally and financially it tugged on my heart strings.  Photo Express Inc. had been started by her father and his brothers in the 80s, primarily as a film development company, then shifted towards portraiture.  Eventually Kellie took over it as the second generation, and her daughter Page, who spent as much time in her studio as my kids have in mine stood as a likely candidate for the 3rd generation.  Page was 9 when Kellie passed unexpectedly, her and I were only a few months apart in age.  To add even more strife to their family sorrow, her mother Judie, who had helped manage all the books was battling stage 4 cancer.  Out of nowhere a friend of hers called me and asked me if I would buy out the company from her parents and take it over so they could retire.

It wasn’t more than a few weeks after I had cleared more things from my way to make room for the Reliquarian that I received the call.  Life has been pulling me many different directions, and Michael had been talking only the day before about his options as he nears the end of his 20 years of service… he considered banking on the name I had built and taking over the photography studio, building a high volume, service based company where I had been rooted in the artistry and taken a very low volume at a much higher price tag.  We pacted to undertake the challenge together.  I liked the idea that the McGinns who had built this family business over nearly 30 years would have something to show for the efforts they had given for a third, to half of the years they were gifted in life.  Hopefully it would grant them some peace and hope towards the future, that their legacy continue onward.

I agreed to build and run the company for the next few years until Michael’s service time was complete, and then Michael could choose to take it over and allow me to focus on the Reliquarian.  {I have now resigned to the fact that this project will be the culmination of years to come, that water cuts through rock with persistence and time… and patience is a virtue.}  As I scavenged and found furniture, set up framing options, and we put in new floors and cabinets I was overwhelmed and unsure of what I was doing.  I still am, if we’re being honest.  I remind myself there are many roads that travel towards the destination.

As I sat alone in the studio late one evening by myself, I went to turn off the light, and found my shoes lying next to the drill.  Dichotomy.  A visual mantra that I was not sacrificing artistry for entrepreneurism.  I am both.  This was another path, but it was still capable of leading towards and not away from the destination.

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I, of all things am a project starter.  I am enamored with beginnings, and challenges.  I have poor follow through, not because I am bored, but because I am so excited about the possibilities, the untraveled paths.  My wanderlust spirit is easily allured by the unfamiliar, and the beauty that comes with the exploration of new places, and the lessons they have to offer.  It would seem this is a year of exploration.  I opened the doors with the possibility of new genres, new people, new experiences.  I hired new artist to offer them a beginning towards their dreams, a collective vision.  Still, though I knew it would require months of my undivided attention, I made it a point to surround myself in the new Turning Page Studio with the Reliquarian so that I might remember the destination, and make sure to remain pointed towards that ultimate North.

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I have a great love as an entrepreneur, an artist and writer, and the third corner of this trinity is rooted in education.  I have been lucky to be offered opportunity to speak at some of the largest photography conventions and expos in the world.  I have built many wonderful relationships with companies whose practices and products I admire, and align myself with.  I now call many of those whom I so admired, friend, and colleague.  I aspire to remain humble, and being amidst them certainly keeps me thus.  It reminds me to hold to the mantra that a good teacher is first a good student, and in their company I have so much to learn.

I believe their different genres, their unique artistic perspectives has taught me to see differently, and it certainly has influenced the Reliquarian.  Shooting with Alan Shapiro gave me all the flower images for Forlorn in the Forest of Essence, but it changed the way I look at and notice little things, and the Reliquarian has very much been about the little things since the beginning.  It is a sort of massive landscape of macro elements.  The new love specifically of flowers influenced the next incarnation of the key as well.  Art Imitates Life, Imitates Art.  The Reliquarian itself seems to grow and blossom at it’s own pace and season.  My husband buys me flowers for holidays, but planted ones we can plant in the garden, so at the end of our lives, in the home we raised our children in, I might look and see a lifetime of love from him, rather than a few moments or days of cut flowers on a table.  Looking at the purple tulips that opened so beautifully this year, the notion of stamens made of keys emerged.

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Most of this is a learning process for me.  I hold closely to the story of Edison creating the lightbulb, and how he supposedly mused “I didn’t fail 1000 times, I simply learned 1000 ways not to make a light bulb.”  There have been plenty of failures in the Reliquarian thus far… story line issues, timelines that don’t match up, confusion in plot and character and settings.  Lots of mistakes and failed attempts at different art pieces… beautiful images that I still, years later love, but that won’t be in the final story, but received their own post just the same in The First Failures.  I’ve noticed, now that I’ve been at this for more than three years, that the failures and frustrations of the moment end up saving so much time, and aiding in the navigation through creative waters as we make other props and costuming.  The first key flower illustrated the concept, but the petals were thick and clunky, I bought colored clay but solid colored petals added to unrealistic feel and there was a disconnect between what I saw in my mind and what I created… the woe of every artist perfecting their craft.

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It took some time and play with colors but eventually we created these beautiful petals that had texture and shape and color to them that were more lifelike, while still holding the whimsy and fantasy I want the Reliquarian to embody.  I envisioned the first key as growing, spreading vines across her and into the earth, drawing the energy and healing her.

The challenge has been that in a world of amazing technological development everything exists is CGI and photoshop, and I have been deeply rooted in the attachment of these things physically manifesting… though I admit my quaint cottage studio seems to grow smaller as it fills with the props and pieces from this series.  I hold great hope for an amazing art gallery show and book release in the future, perhaps the near future where one might appreciate all these visual nuances in their own glory as well as within the imagery.

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A lot of our work becomes play.  At times we are all childlike in this process, amused in texture and color, and experimentation.  In this case we needed the greens to fade to blues in the forestry she would be in.  This image done later, actually falls before Unsung in the Bleeding Wood.  Our need for blue, led to an evening of creating our own Holi Powder, and dying Mackenzie’s hands in the process.

The beautiful juxtaposition of this project is that the writing inspires the art, inspires the writing.  Often times I have the silhouette of ideas and themes, that I am fleshing out in words and prose, and as I write, the image itself materializes into forms and colors.  In turn when the set is done, the photographs captured, and I am in the editing room I find the writer strolls around the image and learns other pieces of the story.  Uncovering them from the depths they are buried within.  The Bleeding Wood holds red trees and tones within it, a lifeblood in the forest.  In this element of the scene the forest turns blue as it heals her.  Pulling the life energy from the wood.  Like blood swimming to and from the heart, oxygen offering the blood life to carry, and gift elsewhere.  It wasn’t until I saw the blue in contrast to the red that the parallel to actual blood appeared for me.  There they sat side by side, the healing of the forest, and the warrior child within the wood, invigorated and encouraged by the energy of the world coursing within her.

And so the next image: A Second Succession is born.  Named for the process started by a catastrophic event, a forest fire, a harvesting, a hurricane; that reduces an already established ecosystem to a smaller population of species, and a new rebirth that occurs after.  So the key roots within the forest, draws the life energy of it in, and heals a gravely wounded child.  At the sacrifice of the forest, and her original being, a second birth occurs and like all things, she grows into something new, her losses and woundings the price of such transcendence… A lesson that has come only with time, and has required patience to learn.  Perhaps more than anyone else I write this book and create this imagery for myself.  To help understand the lessons life is trying to teach me, and to make my way through my emotional bias towards the truth of the places within me I encounter.  I am still learning who I am, and I find pieces of myself within the pages of this project.  In the midst of all the images thus far, this might have been one of the most simple in terms of setup and creation… however it has also become one of if not the favorite image I’ve created in the series.  There is something organic, and holistic about this one that really speaks to me.  It echoes a growing sense of responsibility I feel in making decisions which benefit the earth and its creatures.  In continued pursuit of that quest, all sales from prints within the Reliquarian series will now benefit humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors that are close to my heart.  The first of which will be a new school house in Cambodia… but more on that in the next post.

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