Learning to See

I subscribe to the American Society of Landscape Architect‘s newsletter, The Dirt.  Recently Nate Wooten covered a lecture delivered by landscape architect Shane Coen, ASLA, founder of Coen + Partners, who started off by asking:

Who Taught You How to See?

For Coen, the answer is his father, the painter Don Coen. After I read the piece I wondered about the idea of learning to see. Most of us with unimpaired vision just see, there’s no learning involved. It’s like breathing, right? Well, no. There’s seeing and there’s seeing! (And anyone who is serious about meditation or yoga will tell you there’s breathing and there’s breathing!)

So, how did I learn to see?  Who taught me? Thinking back, there have been a few people who taught me different aspects of  this skill.

When I was in college, I was visiting my friend Meg at the University of Delaware. It was a late spring afternoon and we sat on a bench. Meg was a graphic design major with a fondness for David Hockney. Somehow we got to talking about color and she directed my attention to a tree . “I mean, look at that tree. Look at all those greens!”Greens

Yes, I knew there were different greens, as a child I had the big box of Crayola crayons with all its shades of green. But this was different. That tree showed me hundreds, maybe thousands of greens. It was positively eye-opening, and no, there were no mind-altering substances involved.

About twenty years later I took a figure drawing class at the New School. I enrolled because I wanted to use a part of my brain I felt I wasn’t using and I wanted to challenge myself, do something I had convinced myself I couldn’t do. The teacher was, Simon Dinnerstein, a very fine artist. I would leave his class and take the train home and stare at faces for more time than subway decorum dictates. I wasn’t seeing “faces,” I was seeing lines, tracing them with the pencil in  mind’s eye, trying to figure out how I’d draw that nose, that chin, that hair. I had never looked at the human body like this before.

8th Month and 9th Month
Simon Dinnerstein beside his drawings “8th Month” and “9th Month.” Photo by Jeffrey Wiener.

Several years later I was in Michigan with cinematographer Wolfgang Held. We were shooting David Milarch as he walked through a forest. It was snowing and windy. We were looking around for some b-roll footage. I became mesmerized by tree tops swaying. I told Wolfgang I wanted that shot and he said the camera wouldn’t capture it the way I was seeing it.  He was correct.  Before he said that I knew cameras didn’t “see” like eyes, but it wasn’t until he said that that I apprehended it.  Despite this display of ignorance Wolfgang, whenever he saw that something caught my attention, would ask,  “What are you seeing?”

David Licata and Wolfgang Held in Arizona during the first shoot.
David Licata and Wolfgang Held in Arizona during the first shoot.

I was flattered the first time he asked that but I also understood that, yes, cinematographers see better than I do, but sometimes (rarely)  I see things they don’t.

And that’s why now that I act as a cinematographer at my day job at the education factory,  I ask my assistant (when I have one), “What are you seeing?”

There are many other people who taught me how to see. How to see buildings, stars, art, gestures, acting, edits, birds, rocks, lichen, fire, emotions and more. And of course there are many people who taught me how to hear and taste and …

Who taught you how to see?

For more about seeing color check out this episode of RadioLab.

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Everyday Astronaut – An Interview with Photographer Tim Dodd

I first encountered Tim Dodd on Facebook; we are both members of the Space Hipsters group.  I posted an old add for Tang. Tim posted this photo!

Everyday Astronaut - Tim Dodd

Upon seeing this surreal and witty  photo, I knew I had to interview this man.

Here’s a little bit about Tim Dodd: he is a professional photographer based out of Iowa. He mostly shoot events and commercial work, but he has also shot four launches for spaceflightnow.com including the Orion Test flight, EFT-1 in 2014. His work has been featured on Buzzfeed, Reddit, TECH Insider, Flickr’s artist of the week, as well as several international publications

Your photography first came to may attention via Facebook and that led me to Everyday Astronaut.  Where did the idea for Everyday Astronaut come from?

In 2013 I randomly bought a spacesuit online, well technically a Russian high altitude flight suit, and a few months later began shooting a series I titled “Everyday Astronaut.” The first pictures I took were at an ISS resupply launch at Kennedy Space Center that I was trying to catch in April 2014. I took a few pictures around the visitors center and had awesome reactions to it from my friends and family. Then I started shooting more “everyday” rudimentary moments and that’s when the series started.

Do you think of Everyday Astronaut as its own entity or is it related to your other photography work in some way?

Everyday Astronaut is definitely its own thing although it’s a creative outlet for me and a portfolio piece, it’s always viewed as its own project outside of my typical professional work. However it does combine two of my loves, space and photography, so there’s that. 🙂

Which came first, your interest in photography or aerospace?

I’ve actually been into aerospace since I was a very young child, but I didn’t follow it very much for 20 years or so. It wasn’t until about 2012 that I really began to obsess over spaceflight. So it did precede my love for photography but photography had been a more mature passion.

There’s a header on your website, “Helping add A (art) to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.” Why do you think that’s so important?

I feel like art inspires science and science inspires art. I think it’s an eco system that plays off each other. For me, as a three-time college drop out who can never make it through the academic world, I have always had art to express myself. I don’t want people to think just because they don’t have a STEM degree doesn’t mean they can’t participate in those fields. I think at the end of the day it takes creative thinking and often a certain amount of art to even begin to dream big.

Tell me about the awesome suit and helmet?

I found the suit on a website called rrauction.com. It’s of unknown age, most likely from the 80’s or 90’s and most likely a naval fighter pilot suit from Russia. It’s gotten plenty beat up since I’ve owned it as it’s been dragged across the United States a few times and come with me to nine countries so far.

Make sure to follow @Everyday Astronaut on Instagram.

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A Pearl S. Buck Quote

Alexander Calder in his studio
Alexander Calder in his studio.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him…a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, and create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.

 Pearl S. Buck

Here’s an article about the “inhuman sensitivity”  Buck is talking about, Why So Many Artists Are Highly Sensitive People by Carolyn Gregoire.

Thanks to Meagan Patrick for bringing this to my attention.

A Present for You

VCCA Corn Crib interior
VCCA Corn Crib interior

Here’s a present from me to you — me playing Heitor Villa-Lobos‘ Prelude No. 2 for Guitar,  recorded in the corn crib at VCCA on a very rainy day.

Please excuse the misplayed notes, the notes that didn’t get played, and squeaky notes escaping my cranky guitar which was not digging the variable weather.

A personal note about this tune: I always feel challenged by it and midway through the final section it always feels like I hit the 20th mile of a marathon. Not that I’ve ever run a marathon…

I hope you like it.

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More Villa-Lobos here.

For more guitar music recorded at VCCA, here’s a Bach prelude (recorded in the silo) and a Purcell minuet (recorded in the field).

Here’s a playlist of me playing  classical guitar music.


Guest Post: Poems Inspired by VCCA by Beverly Sky

I’m just back from three weeks plus residency at my home away from home: the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I’ve written before about residencies and I’m sure I mentioned that one of the best things about them are the people. You meet amazing people at these places. This stint was no exception.

I’d like to share some poems written by Beverly Sky. Beverly Sky, Fiber Artist (and wannabe everything else) has a studio at the Boston Center for the Arts. A fellow at VCCA, her morning walks on the way to her studio in the Virginia woods have engendered a few poems.

She shared them with me and  we were both tickled that her poems complement my photos and my photos complement her poems. I asked if I could share them here and she generously gave me her permission. So here then are poems by Beverly Sky with photos by me.

Poem 1, Day 6

Walking Through The Unknown Woods In December

Brown leaves
trimmed with
hoar frost’s crystalline ice,
crisp in the early morning
as I start out
on the poorly blazed trail
to the pond.

Bare trees stand silent
against the blue sky
sentinel witnesses to time passing,
the crunch of fallen branches
under my footsteps,
flash of a Cardinal,
red in the bushes.

I hear the Geese call
and look up to see the
gaggle, all crowded together
along the water’s freeze line…

and then, the bench by the shore…


The trail,
now camouflaged.
The blazes, bits of shredded ribbon,
tied to occasional branches are
weather-beaten and scant…

I have no compass.

Then, the small wooden arched bridge
over the brook
in the near distance
and I follow.

For a time,
I watch the sparkling stream
flowing through its
well defined path.

Up the hill
the narrow trail
of delicately flattened leaves,
is barely visible
and then,
the bright green moss mound
parted down the center.

A sign,
as I pass through,
that others have tread here too.

I hear the call of a Crow
And then
a train passing
in the far away.

Thoughts pile up
like kindling twigs
set aside for winter.

Further up the hill,
the way is blocked with bramble,
violet Raspberry branches
thorny, twisted and arching,
and the Bittersweet berries,
catch my coat and tangle my hair,
I stumble on the dead logs.

And then,
a ray of sunlight
the clearing ahead is illuminated.

I push my way through
and out to the meadow,
the sunny morning meadow.

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Poem 2, Day 7

The Next Day

Past the great Nordmann Fir
ferns still splay their emerald fronds
on the leafy brown earth.

The geese are gone this morning.
It’s Monday, off to work, I guess.
I pick up a verdigris lichen covered piece of bark
to take back to the studio
so I can remember the moment.

Passing the clear stream
riffling along it’s banks,
light sparkling the surface.

New moon last night
brought out all the heavenly stars.
Shining bright ! Pleiades, Orion, Cassiopia
twinkling, dancing, celebrating
the darkest night of the year.

Walking up the steep hill
takes  my breath away
and clears my mind,
yet, I miss the subtle signs
and find myself in a bramble of bushes.
I have lost the way.
I stand still.

Turning back
to find the path,
a blue Jay flies by.
In the distance,
the call of it’s mate,
and then,
the tattered orange blaze
hanging on a slender branch
I am out of the woods.


Poem 5, Day 8


On my way to dinner
through the woods
here and there
a tired cricket chirps.

Pink lenticular clouds
float against a pale blue sky.
The abandoned shed,
part lean-to with faded
celadon green siding,
is filled with broken tools and memories.

The cook told me
there is a secret garden nearby.
I find the opening
between the high Boxwoods.
Three cracked, mossy stone steps,
overgrown with Ivy,
lead into a grassy circle
with a small octagonal stone pool.

Five Goldfish, (actually, deep Orange-fish)
slumber under the black water’s surface.

To the side,
an ornately carved, round
cast iron table,
is covered with pine needles
and leaves.
Two matching chairs,
all tilting in the wet ground,
waiting for company.

Small clearings
are home to sculptures.
Totems made from rock, ropes,
concrete and iron,
they too, wait for company.

Out into the parking lot,
the blue Shenandoah Mountains
rise over the rosy horizon.

The 5:25 train clickety clacks by,
Whooooooo, whoooooooo!
A bumper sticker on a fender asks:
“What would Walt Whitman do?”

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Poem 6



No poem today.

Foggy outside,
Foggy inside.

Beverly Sky
©copyright 12.7.15


Riding the Star Wars Frenzy: I Am the Envy of George Lucas

Why am I the envy of George Lucas? Here’s a quote from GL explaining why he doesn’t want to make another Star Wars film, or any big budget feature for that matter.

Han Solo in carbonite

You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized, and people try to make decisions about what you’re going to do before you do it.

Y’know, it’s not much fun, and you can’t experiment; you can’t do anything. You have to do it a certain way. I don’t like that, I never did. I started out in experimental films, and I want to go back to experimental films, but of course no one wants to see experimental films.

Like many folks, I’ve spent so much of my life answering to people and things other than myself; it’s nice to have  a little corner of my world, i.e., this film and the writing, where I don’t answer to anyone but me. Mostly, anyway.

snoopy-banksyGeorge, you didn’t ask for it, but here’s my advice. Make your experimental films. People will want to see your experimental films. They might confuse people, critics might think you’ve lost your mind, Hollywood might think you’ve lost your mind.  Are you concerned that they will tarnish your reputation? Are you concerned that no one will want you to make another big budget film? Are you still looking for some kind of validation?

I say, screw it, George. You are in a unique position to bring the idea of “experimental film” into the mainstream. Go for it. What do you really have to lose?

A Gospel Christmas Song Playlist – Listen and enjoy!

It’s that time of year, Dear Reader, and to help you get in the holiday spirit I offer you this playlist of old school gospel Christmas songs. Yes, they are definitely, unapologetically Christmas songs, and not holidays songs. But they are more than that, too. They are lovely songs beautifully interpreted. Enjoy them on whatever level you like.

Many of the songs in this playlist were cited in Robert Darden’s Top 10 Gospel Christmas Songs and Bob Marovich’s The Twelve Classic Gospel Songs of Christmas (not all of their choices were online), with a few others thrown in for good measure.

What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary in post production. You can find out more on this page.

We are in the home stretch and are raising money for post-production: specifically, to pay for archival footage rights, animation, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click here, then click the “make a tax-deductible donation now” button, enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

More than $1,700 has been given to the film so far, and that without really trying or the big hyped-up push of crowdfunding. Oh, how nice it would be for everyone if A Life’s Work didn’t have to crowdfund!

In addition to monetary help, there are many other ways you can support A Life’s Work. Why not consider being a part of the film’s growing community?

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m

A documentary about people engaged with projects they may not complete in their lifetimes.