Letter to Ben

(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved


Acacia tree in the rain on the Eje Ambiental ('10)

Girl with umbrella walks in the rain along the Eje Ambiental (’10).


Hello! I’ve  been thinking over our recent Facebook exchange and I want to amend myself somewhat.

I have a Kodak Z981 digital camera which I bought because of its truly awesome lens–a Schneider Kreuznach Variogon with ED glass lens groups. I would LOVE to have a Schneider APO 50 mm enlarging lens (39 mm thread), currently priced at USD 880 at B&H, but. . .!

Then I discovered some pretty cool features on the Kodak (e.g., black and white @ ISO 64–to DIE FOR!!!) that no one else offers (or they do, but way beyond my price range).

I also own two Epson photo printers (both need fresh inks) and they give me excellent prints. I have Photoshop Elements 6 on the “vintage 2009” Dell laptop and had PE 9 on the  other Dell that I sold because I was broke. I had an Epson Photo scanner, too. Need to replace all this, but anyway, I do have experience with digital.

I learned over time that it takes as long to create an outstanding digital print as it does to create a darkroom version. The difference is mostly economic–chemicals and paper are cheaper (even when I import the paper from the US) than inks and the extremely LIMITED selection of digital paper available here.

And I have produced outstanding images in both media.

I enjoy looking at a well-crafted print.

What I see more and more, however, is technical virtuosity trying to hide an intellectual, philosophical and aesthetic DESERT. With American art, it boils down to conformity in a grisly way–Joe’s work looks like Mary’s work which looks like Steve’s which is a sorry imitation of Walker Evans, who is probably glad he doesn’t have to look at this crap (since he’s dead). For this reason alone, I’m tempted to suggest you take a sabbatical and spend a year in Japan (or wherever) developing your personal vision. For film–stop by B&H and pick up a few bricks (packs of 50 rolls) of film.

But now I’m really going to go out on a limb. What I want to say is based on personal experience, personal history and art history. I will probably sound like your crazy old aunt meddling in your life, but I’m offering this as just something to think about.

I think the photos show that the little boy with spectacular drawing skills is starting to emerge. Maybe instead of B&H Photo Video you need to play touchy-feely at the nearest art supply store. Is there a Utrecht or Pearl Paint in the Boston area? They have good selections of brands at reasonable prices.

Please don’t order this online. Every manufacturer has a formula for colors and consistencies. Europeans favor a slightly warmer palette while Americans lean toward a neutral-clean “purity” (e.g., Cadmium Red Medium is a strong pure RED producing a different purple when mixed with the American version of Ultramarine Blue). Roy Lichtenstein’s work best expresses what I mean.

Once you have some materials, lock yourself in a room with your favorite music. I’m serious about locking the door and turning off your phone. This is scary–you’re really alone with what’s going on in your head. It’s a very intimate dialogue.

Then start drawing, add color, let the canvas or paper talk to you. Don’t stop til it tells you it’s time to stop (at least for the day).

Oh yeah–I forgot this part–

On your way home with art materials, stop and get sweets. Ever get stoned and have the munchies? It’s like that. Also good–pizza (extra cheese) or strong hot chocolate. (If there’s a Latin American neighborhood in Boston, find the tienda or supermercado used by Colombians. Ask for chocolate made by Nacional de Chocolate or Luker. Someone will explain how to prepare hot chocolate with milk using the pastilles. (Or I can, if you prefer.)

I’m digressing. Sorry.

I think you’re using photography as a substitute for drawing and painting. I understand that. It’s a quick fix. I had a student in a photo workshop who started pushing his b&w prints toward their limits and became frustrated when they did not (and could not) match what he saw in his mind. I suggested he take a drawing or painting class because photography has its limitations.

It turned out that he had been drawing and designing and makin jewelry but wasn’t sure if that would lead him where he wanted to go. He applied to Javeriana University’s art school and–out of 83 applicants–he was one of the three new students admitted. I’m still pleased that he got into that program.

But this is why I re-thought my comments about your photography. I know that you know how to draw a full and detailed picture. Photographically you are showing the next step–abstraction. You are reducing something–your idea–to its elements, and this is based on what you did years ago.

Personally, I could do this in my mind but never did it on canvas or paper til I went back to college. That stems from the psychological beating I took from my parents when I started to draw when I was 12 or so. In college I not only had to catch up but backtract in my memories. Very time-consuming.

At the same time I overheard (okay, eavesdropped) on a casual conversation between my painting prof, Jim Adley (who is English) and a student who asked if the prof had always painted, always been an artist. “Oh no, no,” came the candid reply. “My mother held onto my drawings from school and thought perhaps it might be nice if I were to become an artist. And I did attend art school and I painted, but then. . .” He paused, thinking. “Well, there was the War, you know. . . Um-m-m-m. . . But then I became an accountant, if you can imagine that. . .” he chuckled. “For, um-m-m. . .let’s see, ten?. . . Twelve?. . . Yes, about twelve years. I didn’t paint at all. Nothing. And then one day, I found a drawing my mother had kept. . . I couldn’t BELIEVE she still had it. . .” His voice trailed off.

“So I stopped the accounting and applied to an MFA program here in America, in Philadelphia, as they hadn’t anything like it in England at the time, and my wife and I came over for that. Then I started teaching and, you know, that was that.”

So, Ben, if you haven’t seriously drawn in a while on a conscious level, your subconscious and the “art part” of your brain has been developing anyway. You’re in your 40’s–just about the time Gauguin gave up banking. (Please read a solid biography of his life. It was much more complex than my summation.) Therefore, I am only suggesting that you first let the gifted child emerge–the abstract photos on Facebook are the manifestation of a developed eye expressing itself with the medium at hand. After you and the child get re-acquainted, you will figure out what’s your next step.

I can not apologize for the psychoanalytical approach I take on this or any other subject. Thanks to Mommie and Daddy Dearests, I’ve had six psychiatrists and a clinical psychologist. I analyze so much and so often it actually gets in the way when I want to write or paint or sometimes even take pictures.

But this is also why my critique of your photos sounded so cold. I look first at the work, which is good, but I need to give it context. Overkill? Maybe. But I also believe in a criticism that allows for growth and is constructive–this is where you are now. Where do you want to go?

However, I stand by my comments about the too-perfect exquisiteness of digital images. Eventually I’ll write more about that.

Just not now.

I need some hot chocolate.

Best regards and a belated Happy Easter to Ayako, Ethan and Colin. Take care!

Your aunt,


(C) 2015 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved


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