Chasing the moon | field notes #1

We saw it at the moment it happened, at exactly the time and place it had been predicted. Endless online articles and video reports had told us what we were going to see. It was a communal event, informed by the avalanche of data and science streaming at us on our cell phones. We all gathered at the appointed time, as if going to a concert or a festival. And yet…

Nothing we’d read, none of the research we’d done, no stories from eclipses past, had prepared us for what we were about to witness. It’s true what they say: a partial eclipse – even 90+% – has nothing whatsoever to do with a total eclipse. A partial eclipse is only evident if you look through solar glasses and see the moon eating into the perfect sphere of the sun, or perhaps see the refracted shape of the sun as it shines through leaves and is cast on the ground. In a partial eclipse, the world looks and feels the same as always: sunshine, warmth, daytime proceeding as usual. In other words, normal. But what we saw was profoundly abnormal.

I imagine we felt the same thing ancient peoples must have felt when they witnessed an eclipse 7000 years ago: something primal and “other”. In the few minutes just before the moon totally eclipsed the sun, the world changed in the most fundamental way. The temperature dropped 15 degrees; the wind picked up; birds that had spent the morning fishing on the river roosted; the great blues lined up on the river’s edge, the osprey flew back to their enormous nest; crickets started chirping. I can’t convey in words the strangeness of those moments prior to totality. The sun still shone, casting sharp shadows on the ground, but it was dim. The western sky got dark, like just before a thunderstorm, but the sky was clear. The horizon took on a sunset glow, but it wasn’t sunset – it was 1:30 in the afternoon. The color of the light wasn’t warm – it was cool, violet. The air took on substance and volume. And then it happened – darkness swept over us in an instant. Nature stormed into our presence, asserting itself, overwhelming the interior noise in our heads, putting on a show to beat all shows. You could hear gasps and exclamations at the moment the sky went dark, and then silence. The sky went as black as blue can be. The sun transformed into an intense bracelet of the purest light around the moon, bigger than I expected. I stared awestruck and slack-jawed. We all beheld an indescribable and inexplicable beauty.

My rational analytical side knew exactly what was going to happen, and why. But there are hard-wired ancient memories living within us and instincts that remain from our evolutionary ancestors; these things triggered a deep pit-of-the-stomach physical sensation telling us that something wasn’t right, even as we marveled at what we saw. There is night in the day. So wrong, yet so beautiful. It’s not often we get to experience something so profound as this. It’s liberating, purifying, and humbling to be in that space – even if only for a couple minutes. We’re already planning for 2024.


Barkley Dam, Kuttawa, Kentucky    1:36pm   August 21, 2017

Totality lasted only 2 minutes 38 seconds:

Barkley Dam, Kuttawa, Kentucky    1:37pm   August 21, 2017

13 minutes prior to totality:

Barkley Dam, Kuttawa, Kentucky    1:23pm   August 21, 2017

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Chasing the moon | the journey

In 1970, my folks took me out of school to drive to the Delmarva Peninsula to see the total eclipse of the sun. I had no idea what to expect, but that day – March 7, 1970 – turned into one of the most significant visual experiences of my life. And here we are again – less than 24 hours away from hopefully viewing the second total eclipse of my life. August 21, 2017. Anticipation reigns.

So much has changed in the last 47 years, primarily the advent of the internet. In 1970, we viewed the eclipse from the perfect spot – a promontory that jutted out into the Atlantic Ocean topped by a flat grassy field 40 or 50 feet above the water. It was a spot people would fight for now, but back then, there were maybe 30 people there to view the eclipse – mostly scientific types with big telescopes. It was a time of no Google Maps, no cell phones, no global database of information. This time around, we’re using every resource available to try and guarantee a good view: the NASA/Google Interactive eclipse map, the National Weather Service site, the Naval Observatory’s sun altitude/azimuth charts, and many other references online.

With all this information in hand, we realized that we could determine exactly the path of totality and exactly the sun’s position in the sky at that moment of totality. But we couldn’t know the weather more than a few days ahead. So we set off to see the eclipse with no firm plans, willing to make last-minute changes in our ultimate viewing location. We decided to head away from the east coast where most of the crowds and traffic would be and aim toward Nebraska, the land of sparse population and wide open spaces. We’d monitor the weather as the day of the eclipse approached and adjust as need be. Since we were willing to make last minute changes to accommodate the weather, we wouldn’t be able to make hotel reservations that we couldn’t change and settled on a sleeping arrangement in the back of the SUV. We’d stay at truck stops or empty parking lots. Such adventurers we are!

We started out Friday heading toward Nebraska, spending Friday night outside South Bend, IN. Yesterday, we had planned on continuing west but the NWS site showed conditions were becoming iffy in Nebraska – a good chance of cloud cover and rain in the afternoon. So we looked along the path to find where the weather forecast was better. Eddyville, KY was the winner. Forecast: mostly sunny – bingo. So we abandoned the west and headed south, arriving in Eddyville yesterday evening. After a good catfish dinner at Eddyville’s Willow Grove restaurant, we retired to the back of our SUV in the parking lot of the Pilot Truck Stop.

Today has been spent scouting, sightseeing, and getting ready for tomorrow. Fingers crossed. I’ll post again after we return to Virginia – with the rest of the story and hopefully some good eclipse photos.

Good luck to everyone, and be safe. Don’t look at the partial eclipse without certified viewing glasses. You’ve only got one pair of eyes…

As always with us, the success won’t be measured by the result but rather by the journey. So far, so good.

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A perfect metaphor

As we build our home, disorder is the order of the day. It looks like a bomb site – chaos reigns; hazards are everywhere; it’s hard to discern what’s new and what’s old, what to keep and what to toss. Walking through the jobsite, progress is hidden amidst the stuff of life.

We are grateful for the zen masters on this project: our subcontractors. They show up and do their work, focusing full, non-distracted attention on the task at hand. When they’re done, they leave.

Progress is being made. There’s a lesson there…


Capon Bridge, West Virginia    5:02pm-5:04pm   June 20, 2017


Capon Bridge, West Virginia    12:02pm   Aug 7, 2017

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The woods beside my house

The woods beside my house smell of earth and sound like life exclaiming

I return there to remember that it’s all I need to know
Everything there is is there

Perfect balance
No need for my input
Working just fine

When asked what he thinks about when making his sushi, the master chef replied,
“I think exactly nothing. I listen to the salmon.”

I’m working on my listening skills

Listen to the woods
See the rhythm
Be the mountain
Breathe in, breathe out
One, two, three…


Shaffenaker Mountain, Capon Bridge, West Virginia    7:21pm   July 13, 2017

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When delight is enough…

We sat on camping chairs in a parking lot. A tribe of kids wearing blue fire on their heads frothed with unrestrained energy as the scene they were witnessing triggered deep, pure, primal joy and delight. Behind us, parents attempted to use the occasion to explain what it all means – the sacrifices our forefathers made, the fragile nature of democracy, etc, etc – I even heard a father explain what a simile is. Ugh. We were with the kids…

Sometimes best to be silent and absorb the moment.

Quiet the fireworks in your mind.
Just enjoy the show.


Woodstock, Virginia    9:47pm   July 4, 2017

[this post was edited 7/9/17]

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We stand on the shoulders of giants

When faced with the adulation of the adoring crowd, it takes deliberate effort not to be overcome with hubris. The flush of victory can blind one to the humility required to live a graceful life.

Hubris is a glaring Achilles Heel that can do immeasurable damage. Humility is a quiet grace that can achieve the impossible.

I dream that each person coming to Washington to take their new seat at the table will make a trek to one of the monuments to those who came before, turn their back on the cheering celebrations, and pause to meditate on the sobering task before them.


Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC    7:15am   January 13, 2017

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It’s always right there

There’s an old saying in photo editor circles that goes something like this:
If you want to make more interesting pictures, stand in front of more interesting stuff.

The truth is that it’s all interesting.

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Edinburg, Virginia    9:56am   January 7, 2017

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Living on the curve

There are no straight lines in nature, no permanent installations. All is organic, changing, evolving. Once set in motion, everything will curve, often in the most surprising ways.

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Capon Bridge, West Virginia    5:47pm   October 30, 2016

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Next

The corn’s in and, as always, there’s only one next thing.
Winter’s coming.

Do the next thing.


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Edinburg, Virginia    7:34am   December 6, 2016

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Life is where your feet are

It was with the incredible lightness of a summer evening breeze that we transitioned from our home of 31 years to our temporary quarters where we sit for the next 6 months or so as our next home goes through a make-over. Gratitude goes out to my sister for giving us the key to the place for as long as we need it. We are humbled daily by the charmed life we must lead that continuously affords us such generosity and delight.

We’ve landed in the bullseye of what the Shenandoah Valley looks like; you can almost smell the smoke from dying campfires 150 years ago as Confederates moved across this land they called God’s Country, hear eagles call over the Shenandoah River close by, see cattle do their daily migration from shade to pond to feedlot to pasture.

In the meantime, I’ll keep making images of what I see right here, in the country. After all, that’s all I’ve ever done — make images of what I see.

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Edinburg, Virginia    8:19pm   August 14, 2016

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Edinburg, Virginia    7:07pm   August 28, 2016

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Edinburg, Virginia    7:36pm   September 11, 2016

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We walk through vapor

We walk through vapor that permeates the atmosphere. It casts a spell in which reality is heightened; connections are clear; we’re anchored to moments as they evolve from one to the next to the next. We stand in the wind of that vapor inhaling moments like sperm whales vacuuming up krill. When the spell is broken and we look back, it seems it was nothing less than magic.

What was that?
How do I get there again?
Did you see what I saw?
After all, I wasn’t in front of something obviously awe-inspiring like national park grandeur. I was just standing on the subway.

The vapor is always there. Sometimes we’re aware of it, most of the time we’re somewhere else. As for me, I can go days and weeks oblivious to its existence. But when I’m in it, I’m mesmerized, closer to the fact of the moment than at any other time. Only during periods of clarity and full presence do I have a chance of seeing it.

Art is in the vapor.
Or, perhaps, it is vapor.

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Rue Huguerie, Bordeaux, France    6:04pm   June 1, 2014

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Metropolitana, Rome, Italy    7:54pm   June 24, 2008

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Remembering 15 years ago

Fifteen years have passed since the perfect blue of that September day.

I choose to remember the courage displayed that day and take from its example all the best humans can be: selfless, generous, compassionate, loving.

 It was dark, too dark to see
You held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Up the stairs, into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love

“Into The Fire”
B. Springsteen

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Ten House, Liberty Street, New York City    2:02pm   February 4, 2015

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St. Paul’s Chapel, Church Street, New York City    10:18am   March 27, 2002

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North Pool, 9/11 Memorial, New York City    1:40pm   February 4, 2015

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Prince

“Dearly beloved…”

Among artists particularly––people who know the ecstasy of touching the invisible and making it tangible, as well as the vertigo of not standing on the solid ground of convention and acceptability as they reach for the unseen and unheard––there’s been a flood of tributes for this transcendent genius.

This interview in Rolling Stone from Paul Westerberg underscores the awe in which Prince was held by his fellow musicians.
From the interview (definitely worth reading)…
Westerberg: “Hey, what’s up?”
Prince: “Life.”

Like Bowie, for Prince it was always forward, no hesitation.
His Purpleness colors the air today.

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42nd Street, New York City    9:20pm   January 11, 2016 : edited April 21, 2016

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Clarity | Nakagami, Oh, and Vincent in NYC

Every so often, I have a clarifying experience that helps me to see more clearly my path forward as an artist.

Over the past year, I’ve been reading Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and feeling a strong affinity for his eloquent analyses of his struggle to make truthful objects. With his ideas swirling in my head, we visited art galleries on NYC’s Lower East Side in January and saw two artists whose work resonated deeply in a way that’s taken some time for me to understand. The experience of seeing their art against the background of Vincent’s ideas synthesized in me an understanding that has helped to clarify the main goal of my work: to convey full presence and perception of the moment.

Kiyoshi Nakagami, whose work was shown at Galerie Richard, and Jong Oh, whose work was shown at Marc Straus, are similar in that they both address issues of sense and perception, albeit in very different ways.

Nakagami’s work is about light––how to paint it, not in a narrative representational way, but in a deeper more primal way. He’s not using light to make his paintings more beautiful, or to better render objects within his painting, but rather his paintings are light in its most stripped-down, elemental form. His stated intention is to force the viewer to perceive light not as the thing that illuminates our world, but as an entity in itself.

Oh’s work is about space––not how to represent it, but rather how to convey the concept of space itself, how to heighten the viewer’s tactile sense of space. The materials Oh uses––thread, jeweler’s chains, fishing weights, acrylic––are not his medium. The materials only serve to outline and allude to his real medium: space. Oh sculpts space in a way so minimal and profoundly elegant that he effortlessly makes us aware of what’s always been there.

Nakagami’s and Oh’s work is about what they see, not what they’re looking at. Perception, not subject. There’s little to fight through to connect with their work. The effect of viewing their art carries beyond the moment when the work is in front of you. You become more awake, not to their subjects, but to the world around. A more acute awareness of light, of space, of the moment.

Van Gogh’s words from 130 years ago come to mind. In an 1885 letter he wrote in Nuenen as he worked on his series of potato digger drawings, he discussed the struggle to move from academic accuracy to real perception:

“But I think however correctly academic a figure may be, it will be superfluous these days…when it lacks the essential modern note, the intimate character, the real action. Perhaps you will ask, when will a figure not be superfluous, though there may be faults, great faults in it in my opinion? When the digger digs, when the peasant is a peasant and the peasant woman a peasant woman. My great longing is to make those incorrectnesses, those deviations, remodelings, changes of reality, so that they may become, yes, untruth if you like––but more true than the literal truth.”

“Correctly academic” and “literal truth”, or in other words, mindlessly perfect technique, bring forth craft, but not art.
I’ve written previously that my images are what the memory of being there looks like. The intersection of Nakagami, Oh, and Vincent pushes me to recommit to that touchstone.

Kiyoshi Nakagami, Unititled, 2015
Galerie Richard, NYC
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Jong Oh, Surface Water 4, 2016
Marc Straus, NYC
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New collection | OVERLAYS 2016 VOL. 1

OVERLAYS 2016 | VOL. 1

Artists have, for ages, struggled—agonized, really—with how to create tangible objects that mirror the intangible visions in their heads.

These images represent an evolution in how I render my vision. I’ve been seeing like this for as long as I can remember, and these overlays come ever more closely to showing what I see. Struggle and agony suspended (for now…)

Please click here to view the entire collection.

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Ludlow Street, New York City    2:47pm    January 13, 2016

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Before Leonardo…

…there was no Leonardo.
Before Beatles, there were no Beatles.
Before Bowie, there was no Bowie.
Before now, it was then.

Stay open.

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New York Avenue, Washington, DC    10:02pm  May 17, 2015

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Bowie in NYC

He lived the artist’s life
No calculation, no script, no grand plan
He just moved forward, took the next step
Fearless and unbounded

He reached through the bars to the other side
And brought back gifts we never imagined

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Broadway & 43rd Street, New York City    9:05pm  January 11, 2016

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