Tag Archives: B&W

waiting for the Messiah

We have an expression that is rather difficult to translate. It is ‘waiting for the Messiah’, and since it embodies so many contradictory messages, it is a sort of ironic commentary on the difficulty of the human situation.

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called just that, and circulated as a greeting card

For the last 2000 years, since the Romans conquered our country, and the Jewish people were scattered among the nations of the world, and till the middle of the last century, when the state of Israel was once again established, the Jewish people waited for a savior in the image of a king; in the image of King David, to be specific, who would gather our scattered people in exile, and bring them back to our ancestral home, and would build the holy temple once again. Even in this very simple description, supported by scholars and sages throughout our history, there is already an internal contradiction. For though David was a king beloved by his people, who built the first great State of Israel, though he wanted to build the temple, he was instructed by god not to build it, because he had blood on his hands. It was his son, Solomon, who eventually built the temple.

There are countless jokes about waiting for the Messiah, and also many touching stories of the faith of well known Jewish personalities who believed with all their heart that the Messiah would in fact come one day. These longings are both a joke and an expression of true faith, all rolled into one.

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and here’s another one

There is a story told of a simple Jew in some small town, many years ago, who just never managed to succeed at any job, despite being a very sweet guy without any other apparent disability. It was feared in his town that he would become a failure for life, and wouldn’t marry, wouldn’t have kids… wouldn’t fit into the society. So the administrator of the synagogue (the Gabai) took him aside and offered him a job. It wasn’t much money, but it would be enough to live on. He would sit on the highest hill outside the town, and as soon as he saw the Messiah coming, on the white donkey, he would ring a bell. And all the townspeople would get ready to greet the savior. The young man accepted the position, and soon he found a woman to marry. And it wasn’t long before he had children too. One day he went to see the Gabai again, this time asking for a raise. He explained that he had a family to support and what he was getting was just not enough. The Gabai explained that he couldn’t really give him more. That he had warned him that it was a low paying job… but the job did have its advantages. And what are the advantages? Asked the young man. Well, said the Gabai, the work isn’t so hard, and the job is permanent. You see? That’s the joke.

And there is another story, relating to our dear Rabbi Yisroel Meir whom I’ve mentioned in previous writings, and will, no doubt, write about again. He was known for always keeping a suitcase near the entrance to his home (he lived in Russia during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century). When asked by a student why he always had a suitcase near his front door, he replied that if he heard that the Messiah had arrived, he didn’t want to think about packing. He wanted to go straight to Israel, right away. And that wasn’t a joke.

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a later version, ‘waiting for the Messiah’

And it happens sometimes… like today, for instance… towards the end of December, or at the start of a new year… which in itself is an irony; for this isn’t our new year at all. We mark our time according to the Jewish calendar, and our new year was back in September. But we use the Christian calendar for banking purposes, and other civilian arrangements. And oh the many times, on a day like this, that I’ve looked around my work room… and considered the many projects that I wanted to complete in the last year… and said to myself, ‘I’m waiting for the Messiah’. But it doesn’t translate that well to English.

My best wishes to all my friends and readers, for a healthy and happy new year, filled with adventure, learning, and inspiration.

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descent for the sake of ascent

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Though not raised in the Chasidic movement, I learned to appreciate it later in life. It offers a transcendental understanding of the human predicament in this life. One of the ideas I found there, was that descent is necessary in order to ascend. At first, I found the concept difficult to accept. In fact, when I first heard this theory, I thought that the whole idea had been invented to console the individual who found himself down, and was suffering from his misery. But the more I studied the concept, the more I realized that there was a great truth behind it.

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If you look at a seed, say our teachers, you realize that first it has to soften and come apart before it can grow to become a fruit tree. In order to climb a mountain, says another, one can not go up higher and higher all the time. No, one reaches a certain height, and then has to go down a way before one can go up even further. An example is found in the Talmud of Rabbi Zira who decided to go to Israel from Babylon, and fasted a series of fasts in order to forget the religious rules of the diaspora, so as to learn the rules of living in the holy land with a clear head. Many examples are given, but the message is enforced again and again…

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enjoying the music, Rivka

For a serious person, being down is not a state in itself, but part of the process of going up. When all goes well, a person is satisfied with his life, and doesn’t push forward. But when he is unsatisfied or unhappy, he examines himself and his situation, and in that way finds a path to improvement. And so our teachers tell us, we shouldn’t look at unhappiness and misery as bad luck… crying out, ‘why is this happening to me?’ but should see it as part of the preparation for ascent.

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Pini joins in on the drum

In another place I found this explanation. When a person is on a high, he sees everything about what he is doing and how he is living as perfectly all right. And so, is unable to see alternatives that are even better. To remedy this, he has to fall from his position of grace in order to ascend to a still higher level of consciousness.

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In the last couple of weeks, I found myself more and more miserable after hearing that my previous landlord was not interested that I continue to rent his apartment. I didn’t like the apartment that much. There were a lot of things wrong with it. But I liked moving even less. I felt uprooted and homeless. It has been about four months since my friends convinced me to move from my old apartment to a new one, and during that time, I’ve been living in temporary conditions. I have been without all sorts of tools and implements that I was used to. I’d moved from one temporary home to another. And there didn’t seem an end in sight. When I asked how my new home was coming along, I got one of two answers. Either I was told it was almost ready. Or I was told that there was a lot more to do to set it up. If I got the first answer, I would immediately suspect they were just trying to cheer me up. If I got the second answer, I would despair.

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My last move to still another temporary home was made with great speed and little caution. The new place was cleaner and nicer, and it had a little garden next to it. But though it was a two room flat, it was very small, and there wasn’t enough room to store all of my possessions in an orderly fashion. The kitchen was so small that I had to move the drying rack for dishes to the couch in order to have room to prepare a meal. And the two little windows let very little light or air into the apartment. I had to use artificial lighting all of the time.

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When my daughter Rivka was about to visit, she asked me if I would like her to bring dinner. I told her not to bring anything. I thought that since the kitchen was so small, it would be more trouble to prepare a good meal for us than it was worth. I decided to eat out. We went to Pini’s new restaurant. For years I used to go to the old one, and it was a place I loved. The story of how and why he moved is too long to tell here.

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When we arrived at the restaurant, it was full. There were musicians playing in one dimly lit corner of the restaurant, and we were offered a table right next to the band. It was clear that we would have to give up any hope of dinner conversation, but I said yes immediately. I love music. The music was of the Grecian style, and warmed the heart. It started out good, and got better when a singer joined the musicians. At a certain point, Pini himself, proprietor and master chef, joined the musicians to play the drum, Customers got out of their seats and started dancing. I hadn’t brought my favorite camera, because I worried that the rain my damage it. But I did have a little pocket camera that I always take with me for emergencies. These photos tell the story. As I started beating the rhythm on the table, while eating the exotic foods offered in this wonderful restaurant, I raised my head with a radiant smile, and said… ‘ah now I understand. The descent is for the sake of the ascent’. I was one with the world, and filled with happiness.

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touching our hearts

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Looking back at those days, some thirty years ago in Jerusalem, we were wide open and unsophisticated, but we didn’t know it at the time. The sixties were long behind us, and it seemed at the time as if life had settled down, and folks had gotten serious. But it was still pretty easy to find music somewhere on a week night, and on a Saturday night it was a sure thing. There were a number of bars that were happy to host a performance. You’d see locals and tourists, and expatriates from all over the world who’d find their way here for one reason or another.

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You could see them in the park on a sunny winter day, or in the spring and summer… making music for themselves till they got an audience, and then turning an accidental meeting into a full performance. And there were some very talented people who worked a day job, but came out at night to play. Often the venue was lit by dim lamps or candles because the place itself was lacking anything in the way of decoration, and if it was well lit, we’d have been distracted by the dusty shelves, the deteriorated furniture, or the garish paint peeling off the walls.

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But we didn’t notice all of that. We’d come without expectations, and reveled in the music. Most of us knew one another, by sight if not by name, and we’d have a good time, and a few drinks as the evening grew long. We loved the performers without there having to play a role for us… and if someone started accompanying the musicians while sitting at a table in the bar, he was liable to be asked to come join the band. The scene was very informal.

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There were two stars though, in those days. And though each had their own career, they would often perform together. Libby and Ted. Sometimes they had a whole band to back them up, and sometimes it was just Ted accompanying Libby. They performed the blues and some rock and roll. And when they got into the mood, they could just tear the night down the middle, and stop all conversation in the bar, as everyone there would focus on them, and forget anything else.

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Libby would belt out a blues or some soul song, and she’d have the power of Janis Joplin, though it was never an imitation. She was just doing her own thing. And I remember on numerous occasion, hearing a passing visitor say, ‘Wow, she’s great. Is she famous? Has she made any records?’ Well, she was famous in our town. But I don’t think she ever got to the music big time. She was known in a lot of places here in Israel. I guess you need more than talent to make it big. A lot of drive, and ambitions, and a bit of luck. Sometimes you have to sacrifice part of your private life too. But back in those days, we didn’t need any more than we had… and we had some really fine music of all types.

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black and white photography

Photography has existed for hundreds and thousands of years. It is described in Greek books written some 2000 years ago, as a device by which one could watch the eclipse of the sun without damaging one’s eyes. And later, it was a much loved device among painters in the dark ages, used to create accurate copies, and exact portraits. All of this by way of the camera obscura, which was basically a dark room with a very small hole that allowed the picture to enter the room and be projected on the wall opposite the opening. It was only in the early 19th century, that pioneer photographers devised a way to print the image on a page. And though color photography came to this world at the beginning of the 20th century, black and white remained the standard till the 1960s, and many fine art photographers preferred black and white till the arrival of digital photography.

Since the invention of modern photography, there were many special effects that stimulated enthusiastic responses over the years, including cinema, color photography, 3D photography, and others. But the standard black and white photograph was dependable, relatively easy to use, and proved over the years that it could open a world of possibilities. Color and 3D were always in competition with reality. But black and white remained a parable, and as such, did not compete with reality as we know it. It reminded us continuously of the reality we saw with our eyes, but never quite touched it.

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the window, on the northern shore of the dead sea

My own love affair with photography started in my youth and continued through my life. I loved the art, and the technology, and became a professional photographer, and had numerous periods in my life where I devoted myself to certain aspects, media, and equipment that are part of this occupation. I loved working with large negatives, which by their nature are able to hold enormous amounts of information. In the area of high resolution, large format photography, film is still able to produce results that are unequalled by digital photography, but it seems that digital equipment is fast catching up.

The image above, of the window, is an image that I fell in love with at first sight. And over the years, I have returned to that image and re-photographed it with different media, and different cameras. But this original picture still hangs in my dining room, and forever reminds me of that night, long ago, when I printed the first print of that picture with a very old fashioned enlarger, and trays of chemicals in a room illuminated by a red bulb. I have enjoyed some of the variations. The color version of this photograph, that was taken years later, became quite popular. I have done a panoramic version, and eventually a digital version too.

One of the advantages of black and white is that it has a longer life expectancy. Color dyes fade in time. Both on negatives and on prints. Digital media has a short life span too, from what I’ve heard. But I have printed negatives for the museum here, that were older than 150 years, and all of the information was there. And I was able to provide beautiful prints from the excellent negatives.

Up until the digital period, there were many reasons to consider if you were going to photograph in color or black and white. And once you made your choice, you already had a film in the camera, Many photographers found it easier to work with black and white, because one was able to use the red light to see, while printing pictures. When working with color, one had to work in complete darkness. I personally had a wide variety of tools and equipment, as well as a large collection of cameras, but aside from the fact that I could work with color without problem, and many of my customers demanded color for their industrial and advertising needs, I found myself often going back to black and white for any number of reasons, ranging from limitations that one found in artificial light, and all the way back to seeing the black and white as a parable, or an analogy. Often, it was more comfortable for me to work with it.

Now, in the digital age, one does not have to wait to put a different film in the camera. One can change from black and white to color and back again with each picture. One can change the sensitivity of the camera with each picture, or change the white balance. We have the advantage of much greater flexibility. On the other hand, it seems to me that the digital cameras are more friendly to color use, and one has to know more about photography in order to elicit the full power of black and white from the color camera.

a flower in black and white

This post is dedicated to my blog friend, George, who has taken a great interest in black and white photography recently. Personally, I love color. But there are some unique qualities to black and white photography too. And it doesn’t surprise me that in this digital age, there are some who wish to explore the possibilities of shooting monochrome.

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a very early photo of mine

This photograph was taken on my Horseman 4×5, a camera I’ve loved dearly for many years, but now hardly ever use since the switch to digital. I miss it. The camera, though a tool, became something like a friend to me. It was the second most reliable tool I ever had. The first being a Swiss army knife, that I carry to this day in my pants pocket. It was expensive when I first bought it. And I didn’t know if I could afford it. And then later, it was often too heavy and too slow. It was work just carrying it around with me. But it accompanied me through so many stages of my development, and I’ve never met a camera that was better than this one.

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I believe that an artist has to be pretty selfish or self centered in order to produce work. I have always been quite sensitive; sensitive to what’s going on inside other people… to moods, thoughts, feelings… and emotions. At some point, I discovered that it was difficult to show my work to certain people before I was finished with the production of that work. Because hearing the response of that person, would influence the way I worked. Often, I didn’t have to hear. It was enough to feel. Sometimes, it would cause me to stop working altogether. Others may have had similar experiences, and built a thick shell around themselves in order to protect themselves from too many influences. I felt that the sensitivity itself was a gift, and so rather than build walls around me, I kept learning how to be more sensitive.

However, in order to survive as an artist, I learned that privacy was necessary. And I built a back room in my mind, as a mental work place, where I wouldn’t be disturbed. In order to maintain my ability to work as a creative artist, I have maintained this back room all through life, and it now exists on my computer too. On the computer, it’s not a place of work, actually… it is a place for ideas.

Our holiday of Passover starts tomorrow evening. There were things I planned to write about on Friday. But because of the death of my friend, I have been in another mood for the last few days. I’m going with the flow. It is against the rules of our religion to mourn on a Sabbath or holiday. So I will make the most of these in-between days, and then make the most of the holy days, I hope. Best wishes to all.

Please Note: Some readers have made a connection between George, to whom this post was dedicated, and my friend David, who died last week. There is absolutely no connection. George is a blog friend (http://thefuzzyfoto.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/faux-ilford/), whom I’ve never met personally, who is interested in black and white photography, is a fine woman, and I wish her a long and healthy life. David is an old friend of mine for more than 40 years; never read one of my blogs, didn’t know English, and never used a computer in all his life.

burying a piece of us

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rest in peace

Bless the new green shoots of grass
and the leaves and flowers of spring
under the blue sky.
The morning dew on the flowers,
the bumblebees jumping from one luscious flower to another,
and the happy shrieks of children in their play.
But it isn’t always like that.
Sometimes it’s bleak and dark,
with the frost hugging plant life with deathly cold,
and cold fingers of the low lying foggy day
reaching for our aching bones,
nudging us with hints of despair.

Not to speak of the children
who haven’t had the chance to live
before the hatred of a stranger cut ‘em down
tears not dry on their cheeks
from the dress that didn’t fit
or the skateboard that was stolen
their very lives wiped out before we noticed…

And we, simple human beings;
trying to live our lives in the free spaces
between forces much greater than our understanding…
often greater than our perceptions;
carried by winds of fortune and misfortune…
in the heat of summer and the cold of winter,
forgetting in our youthful exuberance
that this life is lent to us for a time…
with the due date hidden in the tiny letters of the contract
on which we impatiently checked the ‘I agree’ box
before throwing our copy into the recycle bin…
we, the slowly evolving church mice and bed mites,
and city cats and fat cats and mountain lions…
all of us with a due date…
with head aches and back aches,
and dyslexia and mothers in law,
and some of us with the law on our backs…
and some with a monkey on our back…
all of us looking for a little light in the dead of night…
we have to learn, don’t we,
to take the good with the bad…
to enjoy a good cry as much as a good laugh…
and to moan the pain away
when it’s filled our bodies and souls past withstanding…
to moan the pain away…

and know…
that we have to take the good with the bad
and the bad with the good…
cause this is life, no matter what we came up with…
no matter if the other guy has it better,
or it isn’t fair…
or we were promised better…
this is it, for as long as we make it through…

it only matters that we like red roses,
when we’ve got the dime in our pocket,
and the all the bouquets are before us on display.
and when we’re saying goodbye to mother
or brother, or sister, or friend
or even a son, who couldn’t take it
and put a bullet in his brain,
saying… I’ve gotten this far,
and it’s as far as I wanna go…
carry on from here, I’ve done my time…

and we, who’ve put our cut hair in the pail,
and put our fingernail clippings in the dust bin
and our cigarette butts in the ashtray…
our old whiskey bottles,
and the old cardboard boxes from the super…
and the wrapping paper that came
with the shiny new purchases…
and Christmas presents found under the tree…
and the spam, and the candy wrappers

let us dig a deep hole in the ground
and with due respect
not exaggerated, and not inflated,
nor overloaded by solemn ritual…
let us put the body of our loved one
who is no longer here…
who’s body is the left over peel
of his earthly existence.
no more than the fingernail clippings
and the cut hair.
not what we will remember
it wasn’t that, we hugged, in better moments
now we’ll lower it into the ground
and shovel some dirt on top of it…
and tamp it down, we will
and say goodbye…

and keep on living, as long as we can…