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21.1.02

Today was one of those days that I wish I had the digital camera with me.

Normally, I'm not much for photography. I prefer to draw. I like to really get my hands into the work, to see it take shape rather than just finding it and recording it, to go back over a part that didn't come out right and work it until it does, to stand back and try to get a sense of how it all fits together and then dive back in to the detail of it. Even with photographs, I'm compulsive about PhotoShopping them. Even if all it needs is to be cropped and have its resolution set to 72, I want to play with the brightness and contrast, and the color balance, and the noise and sharpening filters, to see if I can work it into something more. Photographs are in some ways too real. You get this big slop of data, anything that falls into your frame of view whether it's relevant to the statement you're trying to make or not. Tree branches, people walking by, shadows, all creep into a concept that doesn't necessarily fit into a rectangle. Then you have to look at that glob of data and try to sort out the concept that it contains. Look for a line and a form and a color in crooked branches and jagged snowbanks and speckled stone. But drawing works the other way. You start from the concept, the idea, and create the data that you need to outline it, and only that data (unless you're making a metastatement about data confusion). It's deductive, rather than inductive. Maybe that's why I tend toward minimalistic art -- get the basics down, and keep the form clean and readable. Maybe that's why newspaper websites bother me so much -- so busy with ads and links to special features and related information.

But today was a camera day. At heart it's a practical issue. For drawing you need a controlled environment. When the wind is whipping snow into my face, it's hard to set up a place to draw outside. I could work inside and look out the window, or just work from memory, but that restricts my viewpoint. Both in the sense that I can only look at what's accessible to a window, and in the sense that I can only look -- I can't feel and smell and hear. And it's that full experience of a wet, blinding snow squall trying to erase everything, and finally giving way to worn out, threadbare clouds backlit by the sinking sun, that I wanted to record and make sense of. It's not something I can sit inside and try to recreate. It's something I have to be out experiencing, snapping souvenirs of it that try to capture enough of the essence of what I see that they can trigger the memory of the experience.

The snow didn't accumulate enough to give us a clean slate. I walked across the quad and saw that the paths were smooth and pristine with the new snow, because they're plowed smooth. But on the lawns, the snow had failed to cover the footprints made by people too impatient or too exuberant to walk where everyone else always walks. You could still see their steps, but the masses who kept their feet dry on the plowed paths never made a mark.

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