Seeing & Looking
When I was invited to talk about photography for a boaters gathering in Saint Augustine, Florida this month, I answered a range of questions about the creative process. My audience was a dedicated group of sailors and cruisers from around the world.
The process of sharing to this audience was exhilarating. I shared pictures and stories. None of the pictures in my talk showed flamingos. We're coming to them.
Since childhood, I've been fortunate to have visual story tellers in my family, such as my grandfather, who told compelling tales. Grandpa Pappy was a creative commercial artist, painter and keen visual observer. He'd a lively sense of humor and a gift for the textual and textural details of painting he created to illustrate WWI experiences. He gave these works to his friends to celebrate their own experiences and travels.
When Pappy took me into downtown Chicago on the Loop, he told me stories of how Picasso and Calder made their sculptures. These stories melted into my subconscious, and as a boy, I absorbed vague but powerful impressions of a large, red, abstract, steel sculpture that dominates a plaza in downtown Chicago.
After a visit yesterday in Saint Augustine with my father, a memory of my grandfather surfaced and I searched online for "Calder sculptures in downtown Chicago." A photograph of "Flamingo" came up online (above). Installed in 1974 in the rectangular plaza in the Loop, Flamingo is 53 feet high and made of constructed steel. I've not been back to Chicago since the 80's, and my grandfather has away, but over the decades the form and "Calder Red" of Flamingo stayed with me, even as I forgot it's title and avian reference.
What came to mind immediately, seeing the picture of Calder's Flamingo was a flamingo photograph I'd taken in Florida in 2006. My heart beat faster. A voice inside my head said "Whoa" as I saw the similarity between the two flamingos. This voice convinced me of the lasting symbolic power of art in the way it can bring back memories, over decades of the flock that worked hard to feather our nest, taught us to fly, and sent us out into the world to see.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages