Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hands of Hope

Hands of Hope, sculpture by Sumner Winebaum
located in the courtyard of Temple Israel
CC Jean Stimmell: 12/12/15
Here's a photographic rendition of Sumner's magnificient sculpture,
 my tribute to the Solstice and the Return of the Light

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alchemy transforming Earth and Stone

Alchemy: Roots transforming earth and stone
CC Jean Stimmell: behind our house, 12/18/15

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Haunted by Slave Burial Ground on the Solstice

Essay and photo published in the Concord Monitor, 12/26/15

Memorial for African Burying Ground, Portsmouth, NH
CC Jean Stimmell: 12/12/15
Spirits Rising at the African Burying Ground
Killing time while in Portsmouth last week, I wandered into the Memorial for the African Burying Ground, extending along Chestnut Street between State and Court.  Regrettably, I was a first-time visitor, despite knowing its history from reading the New Hampshire Gazette.

As early as 1705, documents referred to the memorial site as the “Negro Burying Ground.” It is unique in being the only known African Burying Ground of that era in all of New England. As Portsmouth grew, the burying ground was paved over and for the better part of 2OO years it was forgotten – purged from memory – until a backhoe unexpectedly hit coffin wood while doing sewer repair in 2003.

The Portsmouth City Council appointed a committee in 2004 charged with determining how best to honor those buried here, at least 200 discarded souls. The winning design selected by the committee reflects a joint effort between Savannah-based artist Jerome Meadows and landscape designer Robert Woodburn. Their restrained artistry retains the original character of the street and was obviously arranged to encourage deep reflection.

At the top of the site on the State Street side, two figures stand embedded in a slab of granite: one represents the first man brought from Africa; the other represents Mother Africa. On opposite sides of the granite wall, they reach for each other but can’t quite touch.

As you head downhill, one encounters various elements including a trail of pavers that run the length of the memorial engraved with text excerpted from a “Petition for Freedom,” submitted by 20 African men, who had been sold into slavery as children, to the NH state legislature.

Of course the petition was ignored. It is interesting to note that one of the petition signatories was Prince Whipple, whose “master” was Declaration of Independence signer, William Whipple.

Reflecting on what I am seeing on the way down, I feel my chest tightening from the weight of ever-increasing, white man guilt. Finally reaching the bottom, I encounter in the cold, slanting light of the setting, solstice sun, eight abstracted human figures, made of concrete and plated in brass, standing confined by the boundary fence.

Tears in my eyes I take photographs, one of which is displayed above, solarized to match my mood – along with the following verse which arose in my mind:

Spirits arise on the solstice,
slaves from the grave,
haunting us each year
with the same old refrain:

Why don’t black lives matter?


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dreaming of a return to tribalism

Tribal Four Image Dream Montage    CC Jean Stimmell
(credits below for 2 of the original images before being altered in Photoshop)
I had a dream last night of attempting to take the perfect photograph –in that magic hour before sunset – of sprawling factories radiating an unearthly glow like funeral pyres on the Ganges

As the evening mist mushrooms into bellowing smoke, it strikes me that these factories are not benignly lit but ablaze!

This gathering vortex brings home to me the absurdity of attempting to capture impermanence with a photograph

As further proof of this, an indigenous person appears, androgynous in appearance with silky black hair and aquiline nose, a shaman birthing a long-forestalled prophecy

After ages of abusing our mother earth, the pendulum of history has changed direction: These burning factories, iconic symbols of modernity, signal a shift back toward tribalism

• original photo of Domino Sugar factory, Inner Harbor, 
by Angela Pan: www.abpan.com) 
• original photo of indigenous American is of Amos, Two Bull, 
Sioux Indian portrait taken by Gertrude Kasebrer cc 1900   

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Bewitching Hour

  Bewitching Hour  
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/25/15
Their duties now done
beckoned by the full moon
our sunflowers ascend

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Prehistoric Beast

Behind Deerfield Community School
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/24/15
Prehistoric beast
hiding behind Deerfield School
gets first detention

Rouged Winter Berries

Winter Berries by our mailbox
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/24/15
Rouged winter berries
Seducer of the senses
in a stark landscape

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Weeds soaking up last rays

Sun setting over the Merrimack River
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/18/15
Weeds soak up last light
of the setting solstice sun:
Soon snow blankets all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Flaunting Their Wares

Solarized Photograph of Apples Glistening in Setting Sun
 Range Rd, Northwood.  11/9/15
CC Jean Stimmell
Defying Old Man Winter
rouge cheeked apples
flaunt their wares

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ghostly presence

Mysterious Lady guards the trail to Demons Pond: 11/7/15
CC Jean Stimmell: Meadows Park Northwood

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Can Adversity Spur the Muse?

It was a nice surprise to get this email yesterday from the New Hampshire Art Association: 

Congratulations! Your artwork, Garden Totem, won a honorable mention receiving $100 in the 16th Annual Joan Dunfey Open Juried Exhibit.
Garden Totem        CC Jean Stimmell
This is the second image from my “Bony Garden Series" to be recognized. Back in August, another, Resurrection, got accepted in the 36th Annual Parfitt Open Juried Exhibition. A little background information might be helpful to trace the history of how the “Bony Gardens Series" came to be – and the crucial role adversity played in the process.

It all started in August when I was recuperating from prostate cancer surgery. I was in a lot of pain with a fever of 103.° Looking past myself out the window, I became fascinated with the glint of the morning sun off the bones hanging on our barn, bones of wild animals that our hound dog, Coco, hauled back home for us as presents.

In my bathrobe with a catheter bag slung off a strap over my shoulder, I unsteadily ventured outside, my camera in hand. I was fascinated with these bones.  I didn't know why. The barn was a poor backdrop so I took one of the intricate bones, the spine of a deer, into the garden.

Brought together by forces outside my conscious awareness, the bones and the garden perfectly complimented each other, despite – or perhaps because of – my fever-addled brain. Blissfully, time flew by as I photographed away, forgetting all my medical maladies.

This is how it came to be that Resurrection was born.
                       Resurrection     CC Jean Stimmell
I continued to photograph various Coco's bones in my garden, from time to time, over the summer and, in the  process, amassed a series of prints. I also did some studying, researching the symbolic meaning of these two elements, gardens and bones:

Gardens, of course by their very nature , represent the essence of life: The garden contains “the life-giving Tree, fruit, or flower, the reward of him who finds the center. The garden is also the symbol of the soul…”[1]

Bones I found out are not, as in our modern culture, just something that dogs gnaw on: To indigenous people, who still live embraced in the arms of mother nature as opposed to some digital device, bones are sacred:

"Indeed, for the hunting peoples, the bone symbolizes the ultimate root of animal Life, the matrix from which the flesh is continually renewed. It is starting with the bones that animals and men are re-born... according to an uninterrupted cycle that constitutes an eternal return…By contemplating himself as a skeleton, the shaman does away with time and stands in the presence of the eternal source of Life."[2]

So, in summary, I feel blessed that these symbols were able to manifest through me in my photographs. And I am eager to express my debt to adversity, which focused my attention and deepened my sense of mortality, opening me up to what the muse was trying to tell me.

[1] http://www.symbolism.org/writing/books/sp/3/page3.html
[2] Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities.pp 83-84.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Put out to pasture

CC Jean Stimmell: Nottingham, NH   10/29/15
An old truck
similar to my first
put out to pasture:
My turn next.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Standing with the shadow, not against it

CC Jean Stimmell
"Again we are approaching shadow psychology. What is “shadow” when we stand in it rather than against it? How do the twilight regions of the serpent look when the threshold is imagined as a doorway and not as a censor – where consciousness itself slithers, slips its skin, and speaks with a forked tongue?"

From James Hillman. Senex & Puer  (Kindle Locations 1856-1858).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Expressionistic Pen & Ink Drawing at Odiorne Point?

CC Jean Stimmell: 10/25/15
No. It's not an expressionistic pen & ink drawing...
It's a closeup photo of an ocean rock
at Odiorne Point, Rye NH.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fallling like muted autumn leaves

Solarized Photograph of Abandoned Farm on Blakes Hill
CC Jean Stimmell 10/23/15
Abandoned farm buildings fall to the ground
gently like autumn leaves

Friday, October 23, 2015

Final Magical Dance

Mammoth Sunflowers Final Magical Dance
CC Jean Stimmell: From our garden 10/22/15

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Autumn's Final Curtain Call

Along the Merrimack 10/17/15
Silver maples' curtain call
to autumn's final performance

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Guns, Melancholia, and the Meaning of Life

Published in the Concord Monitor 10/15/15
Original photo taken on deserted outer banks of Cape Cod
CC Jean Stimmell  4/12/14
In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, politicians and the media have focused, as usual, on guns: Should we have more or less? Our national debate reminds me of the guys in that iconic commercial arguing whether their favorite beer  “tastes great or is less filling.”

Let’s for a moment look at a deeper existential issue: What will we do when our time comes near? In most cases, guns will not be the primary topic of concern. For me ­– as much as serving 18 months in Vietnam or having two kinds of cancer – the movie Melancholia forced me to look death straight in the eye.

Melancholia explores the existential question of what gives meaning to life, even in the face of imminent death – in this case when a rogue planet is about to crash into earth. The heroine Justine, like many of us, is already beaten down by the pressures of modern life, while her brother-in-law, the ultra-rational, take-charge-guy, thinks he has a solution for everything, even the rogue planet; he thinks science will always be able to save the day.

However, when the rational guy finally figures out his situation is hopeless – that science has no answers – he gives up and commits suicide, leaving the other family members to fend for themselves. At this point Justine steps up and takes charge of her family, showing them how to find meaning in their lives in the face of death by building a magic teepee – a sacred canopy – and finding refuge inside.

To my way of thinking, this movie provides a metaphor for our times, highlighting the question of how we find meaning in today’s world? Where is our sacred canopy when we need it most? The common bonds that used to connect us are being torn asunder. Our fundamental problem is not about guns, but our increasing conflict over what our social and moral norms should be.

Emile Durkheim, eminent French sociologist of the 19th century, called this kind of social breakdown, anomie. His research clearly shows the ill effects to society when “social and/or moral norms become confused, unclear, or simply not present:” Individuals become alienated from group goals and values; they lose sight of their shared interests based on mutual dependence; and worse yet, this loss of social cohesiveness leads to increasing suicide, deviant behavior and, in our modern age, mass shootings.

For millennia, organized religion was our sacred canopy; it was that institution that gave our lives ultimate meaning, cohesion, and common cause. More recently, science has replaced that role for many people. But now we have been set adrift, no longer able count on either to provide us refuge when we need it most.

In the West, the fabric of the religious sacred canopy began to fray over 500 years ago when Galileo “discovered” that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, ushering in the age of science.  Since then, our society has become increasingly secularized as science has emerged as our surrogate god, the new deity who mesmerizes us with an endless stream of magical inventions, fooling us into believing that with science on our side, we are invincible, able to control our destiny.

But now we are beginning to see through that illusion. Rather than floating effortlessly on the magic carpet of technology, we find ourselves more stressed, anxious, and impoverished than ever.  And when it becomes most important, when our own death draws near, we are discovering just as Justine’s brother-in-law did in the movie, science is powerless to help.

Perhaps that is because, in the cold world of empiricism, scientists can’t grasp the reality of a sacred canopy because it can’t be measured or dissected like a laboratory rat. But, despite the lack of physical evidence, it has always been an essential dimension of what it means to be human.

 Of course, sacred canopies will vary, depending on time and place, and may involve symbolic self-transcendence or maybe not.  But the bottom line is, as our final moments approach, we need to be able to validate what is most meaningful in our lives: our human connection to one another. We do that by coming together and being there for each other, seeking refuge together under the symbolic sacred teepee of our choice.

For indigenous people, able to live mindfully in an animate world, their sacred canopy is not a human projection but a seamless part of everyday life, an ever-present reality woven out of their sustainable, interdependent relationships with their tribe and their living, breathing earth mother.

For those of us today, trying to cope with the dysfunction of our modern world unraveling around us, reaching for a gun is not the answer. Instead we must conjure up the most important assets we possess, our imagination and sense of the divine, to weave a new myth – a new sacred canopy – under which we can once again feel secure and validated, cradled in the arms of our loved ones, our community and our living, breathing planet.

xxx (842 words)
Jean Stimmell, LCMHC
Original photo taken at Ft. Foster, Maine
CC Jean Stimmell: 3/21/14

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tucked Away & Forgotten

Rover's Lost Ball, along the Merrimack
CC Jean Stimmell:11/23/14

For me, this sad-looking ball 
symbolizes all our hopes and dreams
tucked away for safekeeping  
and then forgotten

Friday, October 2, 2015

Provincetown never sleeps

Provincetown Sax Player
CC Jean Stimmell: 10/01/15
Provincetown never sleeps, 
even on a rain-swept Thursday night
with hurricane Joaquin blustering ever closer

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Shamans and Sacred Symbols

CC Jean Stimmell September 25, 2015
An explanation for combining bones and trees in my 
photographic series: Shamans and Sacred Symbols

The importance of bones:

Mircea Eliade reminds us modern Western folks– addicted as we are to rational thought and mathematical algorithms –why bones are so existentially important, something traditional cultures have always known because, rather than being cognitively divorced, indigenous people are intimately held within the embrace of mother nature within the web of life.

"Indeed, for the hunting peoples, the bone symbolizes the ultimate root of animal Life, the matrix from which the flesh is continually renewed. It is starting with the bones that animals and men are re-born; they maintain themselves awhile in carnal existence, and when they die their "life" is reduced to the essence concentrated in the skeleton, whence they will be born anew according to an uninterrupted cycle that constitutes an eternal return. It is duration alone, time, which breaks and separates, by the intervals of carnal existence, the timeless unity represented by the quintessence of Life concentrated in the bones. By contemplating himself as a skeleton, the shaman does away with time and stands in the presence of the eternal source of Life.".[1]

The importance of trees:

Another sacred symbol to indigenous cultures around the world is the cosmic tree which connects Earth with Heaven. The shaman, separated from his community by the intensity of her religious experience, lives on the sacred side of life which enables him to climb the Cosmic Tree to the top where she can “commune with the Lord of the World."[2]

To see the rest of my bony images, check out Shaman and Sacred Symbols on my photography website. 

[1] Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter Between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Realities.pp 83-84
[2] Ibid. pp 64-5.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

I'm haunted by this painting by Mr. Tjapaltjarri

Today’s New York Times has – what I consider – an important piece about the mesmerizing art of Mr. Tjapaltjarri who grew up in the Western Australia desert “hunting lizards and wearing no clothes except for human-hair belts, as its ancestors had for tens of thousands of years,” until his tribe was accidentally discovered in 1984. The newspapers heralded his community as the last “lost tribe.”

Mr. Tjapaltjarri now has a worldwide reputation as an artist but his primary advocation is healer and keeper of ancestral stories for his people; his is still a commanding presence in the community where he lives in the Gibson Desert.

His paintings which have made him a sought after artist … “seem abstract, made from thousands of dots — a signature of much Desert Painting. The dots form tight parallel lines that, when viewed close up, oscillate like those of a Bridget Riley Op Art painting, except more so, a visual equivalent of standing near a speaker that drowns out all the sound around it…”

“The lines and switchbacks, painted on linen canvas while it is flat on the ground, correspond to mythical stories about the Pintupi and the formation of the desert world in which they live. Some of the stories, which are told in song, can be painted for public consumption, but others are too sacred or powerful to be revealed to outsiders. “My land, my country,” said Mr. Tjapaltjarri, the only English words he uttered during an interview, pointing at a painting with a circle made out of dots.”
His painting haunts me, viscerally draws me in. I wrote down my initial impressions below:

Gazing into Mr. Tjapaltjarri’s painting
I clearly see my thumb print DNA
spiraling still deeper entering my psyche
illuminating infinite ways of being
radiating out from my primordial past
into the ever-evolving cosmos
with me safely cocooned
in the center
at home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Shaman: The anatomy of a montage

My Shaman
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/16/15
At my friend Carl’s house I photographed a talisman he had sitting on a stump by his driveway: the skull of a bull  – quite appropriate as he used to raise cattle. The skull drew me in, attracting me in a deep way. When I got home, I processed my digital skull images; then I copied the skull essence into Photoshop and polished it until it felt so luminous, I felt it might hold some otherworldly power.

Maybe I was tapping into my primal psyche, my collective unconscious.  After all, bulls were worshipped as sacred throughout the ancient world. Before that, the auroch was depicted in many Paleolithic cave paintings, pulsing with such sacred, luminous energy, they still give one goose bumps, even in today’s over-the-top world.

Still something was missing. I needed something vitally alive and earthy, yet unfathomable – all at the same time. On cue, an image of a bonsai tree popped into my mind. Trudging through countless Google images  I came across a particular tree that was the perfect compliment to my skull, an amazing bonsai tree photographed by Dr. Jonathan Singer[1] Yes, my primal psyche had been seduced again, this time by a tree.

And it appears there is a reason for that. According to Mircea Eliade[2], a leading interpreter of religious experience, a sacred, origin myth is an essential prerequisite for every society in order to join together the various planes of its existence. For traditional societies, this mythical nexus is often the imagery of a Cosmic Tree joining Heaven, Earth, and the underworld.

So, in my case, this bonsai  represents the Cosmic Tree.

Still, a lot of work lay ahead. I had to first stretch and distort the tree to fit the contours of the bull’s skull; then, painstakingly, I had to work to blend one to the other. Time flew by. I was getting there but the image needed a starker, more primal cast. After following several false leads, changing the image to black and white, while carefully adjusting all the gray tones, did the trick.

I am tentatively satisfied with my work. It speaks to my soul. I call it my shaman.

[1] http://www.japanculture-nyc.com/2012/11/12/book-review-fine-bonsai-art-and-nature/
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mircea_Eliade