1966-1967 - I ATTACK THE UNC ART LIBRARY.
I am determined to gain a large overview of art even though I have not taken an art appreciation course. I go to the library at the UNC Art Department and systematically go though the entire library over the next 18 months. I put my hand on every single book in the library, thumb through it, then select five or so books to go through in detail that evening.1967-1969 - I WORK AT A KINDERGARTEN IN CHAPEL HILL, NC
Although I could avoid the military draft at the time by simply going on to graduate school and getting married (which I did anyway), I am thoroughly sick of school and want to be in the real world. I believed that I can get an alternative service assignment from my draft board if I am able to make my case. The director of the draft board tells me flatly that I do not have a snowball's chance in hell. Nevertheless, I drive from North Carolina to Massachusetts to appear before the board. I ask all the ministers who I had worked with in the civil rights movement to write a letter to the board. To my amazement the draft board grants me alternative service with very little trouble. I work at a local experimental kindergarten (children 3 months old to 5 years old children); this job is the most grueling I ever do, but hey who's complaining. I get to see hundreds of children's drawings and also become the resident snap shot photographer using a simple Kodak Instamatic.I believe that you are only free when you take responsibility for who you are:
1967-1972 - I MEMORIZE THE PAINTINGS AT THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART (MOMA) IN NEW YORK AND VISIT THE GUGGENHEIM.
When I visit my mother in New York City, I always go to MOMA. The permanent exhibit changes very little. Over time, I can walk though the gallery in my mind: the Monet Water Lilly room, the room for Picasso's Guernica, the paintings of the abstract expressionists.1967 - INGMAR BERGMAN FESTIVAL AT CHAPEL HILL.
I also always go to a show at the Guggenheim (Frank Lloyd Wright's museum), as much to see the exhibit in the building as the exhibit itself. I love this gallery and find myself looking down and across to gain a perspective impossible in any other museum.
Each Bergman movie is shown, once a week, in chronological order up to the most recent movie. After a couple of months, I find I am dreaming in black and white in Scandinavian lighting.1967 - I STUDY JACKSON POLLOCK AND WOLS.
I become enamored with the work of Pollock and also a lessor known painter (but just as great) called Wols. Wols is better known in Europe. I study Wols drawings carefully and begin to create a series of small, tight, almost automatic abstract drawings. Going to the other extreme, I make huge paintings on three foot high paper that I buy by the roll. I spread out the paper on our porch to about six or eight feet and then paint a la Pollock using enamel paint, sticks, wide paint brushes, sand etc.
Mural #1 (3 ft. X 8 ft.)
This painting is based on the early Pollock figurative murals. It is my first successful large painting.
Close up of Mural #1 (above).
Extreme close-up of Mural #1 (above).
Mural #2 (3 ft. X 8 ft.)
This work is based on Pollock's famous dripped paintings. Created with enamel paints, I used a beige the exact color of the paper to merge the black and white paint with the background color to make the paper feel fluid.
Close-up of Mural #2 (above).
Extreme close-up of Mural #2 (above).
1967 - PERSONAL HIEROGLYPHICS.
I "invent" a kind of hieroglyphic writing based on the work of Klee and Wols. It is like writing in tongues. I can draw these figures small or large and fill any space with them. Once at the beach, I draw them in the sand using my entire body. (I feel that these hieroglyphics foreshadow the work of Keith Harring and also my drawings in the sand foreshadow some of the "earth art" that is being done now.)
1968 - THE JACKSON POLLOCK RETROSPECTIVE IN MOMA NEW YORK.
I drive up on two different weekends from Durham NC to New York to see the Pollock retrospective. Seeing all the work together has a dazzling effect. I marvel at "Lavender Mist" which appears lavender but has no lavender in the painting.1968 - I DISCOVER PHOTOGRAPHY.
When I realize how easy and cheap it is to develop my own film, I am hooked. I have thoroughly studied the "Family of Man" edited by Steichen so I have a good overview of modern photography. I buy a basic used camera along with black and white negative film in 100 ft. rolls. I am able to cut costs dramatically by doing my own developing and rolling my own film cartridges.
For the next two years I take photographs and develop them in every spare moment. What surprises me is the store of visual images that I have in my mind. It seems that I have been waiting for this moment so that my images can come pouring out onto film. Simple still life scenes, like a coffee pot on top of our kerosene heater or shadows of vines on the porch screen, work almost from the beginning. (Some of my very first photos are still the most powerful emotionally.)
1969 - MY FIRST EXHIBIT.
My "Wols" drawings are displayed at the Wesley Foundation in Chapel Hill, NC. It is my first one-man show. The lighting is dark and I receive little feedback (positive or negative) but what the hell, you've got to start somewhere.
1969 - A POEM IS PUBLISHED.
A small magazine publishes a poem. The recognition is important to me and I am very pleased. It is published in The Brown Bag, a magazine out of UNC Greensboro, NC.
1969 - THE SUMMER OF PHOTOGRAPHY.
For the first time I am able to work constantly on my photography for months at a time. Thanks to my parents, my wife and I stay in their small guest house on Cape Cod for the summer. By the end of the summer, I am reasonably accomplished both in the taking of photos and the developing and printing of photos.
1969-1970 - TRIP TO EUROPE.
Before going on to graduate school, my wife and I travel to Europe. I have very little money but am determined to make the most of it. I discover that Spain is dirt cheap and a fabulous place to be.1969-1970 - DREAMS.
For the next six months we go to England then Spain. I see the Alhambra Palace which is the finest and most moving building I have ever been inside. The town of Cordoba is breath taking as is the great mosque there. The museums have a lot of Romanesque art which I study. The numerous buildings of the architect, Gaudi, in Barcelona are like nothing I have ever seen, since he avoids right angles. We hear a flamenco concert in a small concert hall from the third balcony with the gypsies. Although I do not understand the emotions, the response of the audience and the intensity of the music and performance is stunning. We also see several bull fights. While I realize bull fighting is controversial, I feel I am watching an ancient, important, primitive ritual. I also develop a taste for Moroccan music which I get on our small portable radio.
During the trip to Europe I write down my dreams. I am determined to write them down exactly as they occur not as my conscious memory wants to rearrange them to make them more coherent and more sensible. This takes several months. I fill a number of notebooks.
1970-1975 - I GO FOR MY MASTERS DEGREE AT THE DEPARTMENT OF RADIO, TV, MOTION PICTURES AT UNC - CHAPEL HILL.
Unable to leave the southern part of heaven and wanting a graduate degree, I enroll in the graduate program at RTVMP. This combines my skill with writing and words along with my photographic skills. Not too shabby! In 1975 I finish my thesis by writing a movie script and get my degree. Again "90% of life is showing up!" I get my Masters in Communications (M.A.C.) while many other smarter and more gifted classmates drop out.1970-1975 - WE LIVE IN AN ANTEBELLUM MANSION.
Question: Where does a poor graduate student find a cheap place to live? Answer: In a huge mansion out in the country. After driving around for several days outside Chapel Hill, NC, we locate an old uninhabited mansion on 600 acres of land with three ponds and numerous out buildings. It turns out the owner (the last surviving member of his family) is looking for someone reliable to keep an eye on the place. I hit it off with the landlord. My wife and I rent it for $50 a month. In 1975 a nuclear power plant is built; the electric company buys the land from the landlord so we are forced to move.
Because we are so dependent on our cars out in the country, I find a local Chapel Hill student, Richard Keuhn, who repairs cars for extra income to teach me as he repairs my car. He and I become good friends and what I learn from him is invaluable.
1970-1972 I DO FREE-LANCE WORK FOR LOCAL NEWSPAPERS.
I work as a free-lance photographer for the Western Wake Herald (Apex) and the Fuquay-Varina Independent. This gives me a lot of experience in meeting deadlines, taking pictures in small towns and rural areas, and allows me to see many things I never would have seen otherwise.
1970-1973 - WALKING THOUGH THE MUSIC BUILDING AT UNC.
When I leave the building where my classes are held, I walk through the halls of the music building on my way into town. I walk by a band practicing, pianos and trumpets in private practice rooms and love to hear one sound mix and then fade from the next. Later I find the Charles Ives had a similar experience when he heard two out-of-tune bands pass by each other. He used this as a basis for one of his most popular pieces.1970-1973 - I WRITE REVIEWS.
As time permits, I write reviews for the local alternative paper, The Anvil, which is run by many of the people I met years before at the Carolina Coffee Shop. I review photography exhibits and rock concerts.1970 - ATLANTA POP ROCK CONCERT WITH JIMI HENDRIX.
I am lucky enough to go to one of the last really big rock concerts of the 60s (well almost 60s). Walking in I hear Crosby, Stills and Nash for the first time. It is a good sign. The rest of the concert is superb. Hendrix plays late in the night.1971 - I WORK AT THE UNC PHOTO LAB.
Although I have not taken a course in photography, my portfolio gets me a job at the University photo lab. This is better than taking a course, because I learn numerous skills and I learn directly from the master, Ross Scroggs, the director of the lab. A patient and very intelligent man, he has invented and designed most of the equipment we use. He had worked for Kodak for years before coming to UNC. I soak up his knowledge like a sponge. (For example, "the best negative will be created with the minimum exposure and development that yields full detail, i.e. it will have the finest grain and the best tonal range.")1971 - SECOND ONE-MAN SHOW.
At the University student union I exhibit about thirty photographs in my first photographic exhibit and my second one-man show.
1971 & 1973 - PHOTOGRAPHY WINS HONORABLE MENTION - NC STATE FAIR.
In 1971 I win an honorable mention in the amateur category; in 1973 I win an honorable mention in the professional category.1972 - FIRST SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHIC ESSAY.
Using an old Rollei 2 1/4 twin lens reflex, I shoot an essay of an old school (Holly Springs School) with peeling paint that is scheduled for demolition. I take polaroids first to get a sense of composition and exposure, followed by a complete series in color with the 2 1/4. Then a month later, I do it all over again. See the picture with this page.
Second image from the above mentioned series.
1972 - THREE-SCREEN SLIDE SHOW.
I and three other friends create a multimedia 3-screen slide/tape show for a class project in Educational Media. The subject is the "Devil's Tramping Ground, " a supposedly haunted circle in an adjoining county where nothing will grown within a perfect circle.
We create a show without any spoken words. We start with a realistic panoramic shot of the Tramping Ground on all three screens, progress to images of the devil and sounds of howling wolves, and end with the painting of the monster by Goya who is eating a human being to the tune of very modern electronic music. After this blood curdling climax the show goes to black and silence. The audience is noticeably disturbed. We then bring up a daylight shot of the Devils Tramping ground with birds chirping and all is back to normal. The audience breathes a sigh of relief. (This show had many elements that can be seen in the current Blair Witch Project movie). Our very demanding teacher (who once designed covers for Time magazine) declares that it is the best multi-media slide/tape show he has ever seen.
1972 - 2 POEMS PUBLISHED.
Two poems are published in a small magazine, including the one I use as a basis for my avantgarde movie (see below). They are published in The Chapel Hill Fall Review, Chapel Hill, NC1972 - I CREATE AN ANIMATED AVANTGARDE MOVIE AND GET EXTREME REACTIONS TO MY WORK.
My project for my film class is a movie which combines drawn animation, time -lapse animation, and real time footage, along with a poem narrated in four voices and electronically modified piano music. The photography and technical aspects are well executed and precise. The students in my class love it. My teacher hates it even though I follow the script that he approved. I am mystified by my teacher's response who only gives me a passing grade and then reluctantly. Later, my older friend Pretlow Winborne tells me that I must have been onto something powerful to have received that kind of response. (This movie is like many of the avantgarde videos of today on MTV, especially those shown on AMP at 2 AM Monday mornings, i.e. the most modern experimental music videos being made today.)1972-1975 - PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP FOR TEENAGERS AFTER SCHOOL.
I put together a workshop for teens after school with the poverty agency in Durham, NC. Angry and sometimes violent teens learn to take and develop pictures which gives them a means of expression and a skill, along with a status in their school. I learn a lot from their sense of arrangement and the way that they grow and develop photographically. In the course of the workshop I am exposed to thousands of "naive" photographic compositions by teenagers. (This program would be very appropriate today for teenagers who are "at risk." I am still friends with a number of the teenagers who were in this workshop, today.)
1973 - I MODIFY AN OLD BELLOWS CAMERA TO WORK WITH POLAROID FILM.
Perhaps inspired by Ross Scroggs (see 1971 UNC photo lab above), I take a old small bellows camera and add a polaroid back. I simply hacksaw the back off a cheap plastic polaroid; then with epoxy and black photographic masking tape I attach it to the back of the camera. Because I moved the film plane, I have to adjust the focus setting. The camera works very well, and I get some nice work.
1974 - THIRD ONE-MAN SHOW. MY FIRST REALLY SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT.
I put together a show of about forty photographs at a frame shop. I invent a unique way of mounting the pictures, flush on aluminum with a spacing device to move the picture out from the wall. This way of framing has never been done before, at least in our area. (Now I see it all the time on styrafoam board.) The show is a wild success with about a hundred people at the opening including the former director of the Playhouse 90 series on TV (a teacher in my department) who loves my work and brings the Chairman of the Art Department with him.1974 - PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS: BEST IN SHOW PLUS TWO OTHER AWARDS IN ONE SHOW.
At the Durham Arts Council photography show I win best in show, best landscape and second prize for portraiture. I am blown away. I learn that I have won these awards on the same day my show (above) opens. Some days things really do work.